by Noel Bouché
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
— John 1:12
We know that “it is better to give than to receive” (or, we at least we know we’re supposed to say that).
But perhaps a more important reality is that “we cannot give until we have first received.”
Just as the soil cannot give forth fruit until it has received rain; just as an animal cannot produce milk until it has itself first received nourishment; as a bee colony cannot produce honey without receiving nectar from the flower—so too we must receive to give. Whether it is receiving a paycheck to buy a gift or receiving someone’s story to give empathy, we must receive something from somewhere else to give in kind.
It is written that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19); sometimes, though, we struggle to give that love—and it is often because we have not yet fully received His love in the first place.
Fear (“God will still punish me”), guilt (“God has not forgiven me fully”), shame (“God still will not accept me as I am”), lies (“I am not worthy of love”)—all of these can prevent us from fully receiving love, forgiveness, mercy, tenderness. We do not fully receive, and so we cannot fully give.
But when we receive, when in faith we say and hence accept that we are forgiven, worthy, cared for, and tended to by the One who created and redeemed us, our lives become “like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11), and we bring the divine light and joy into the sexual union of our marriage, into our parenting, into our friendships, into all the peaks and valleys we find ourselves navigating on this quest of following the Good Shepherd.
As we move this month from the season of harvest—of receiving from the earth its abundance—into the season of Advent—of receiving from the heavens the Word made incarnate—let’s reflect on all that has been promised to us, and receive it. Without doubt. Without qualification. Without condition.
Let’s receive, so we can give what has been given to us, and receive and give again.