On the pilgrim way: ‘All my life I have seen myself as a giver’
Sheila Maxey says accepting kindness can be hard
The Bible says ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ but I am currently in the position of receiving rather than giving. That is my spiritual challenge.
Since Kees became bed-ridden and his dementia developed more quickly, I have been receiving an incredible amount of loving support. Having all my life seen myself as a ‘giver’ this is a considerable adjustment. I begin to realise how easily a kind of contract mentality creeps into giving and receiving – how to repay kindness becomes too important a question.
Kees’ carers are loving kindness itself and I can happily, and appreciatively, accept that because they are paid. Our three children visit and phone far more often than they used to and that is fairly easy to accept. However, I do find myself saying, ‘Don’t bother to come this weekend, you are so busy’ – thus trying to put myself back in the giving position. I am in danger, selfishly, of not appreciating the fact that they might really want to see Kees as he very slowly leaves us.
But what about the niece who drives 60 miles once a week to take over and send me out to go for a country walk and a pub lunch with a friend? What about the great-nephew who sends me handwritten letters, with funny sketches, about his daily life? What about the retired teacher to whom I taught English literature 50 years ago who sends me a favourite poem, Auden or Yeats, and visits? And what about the longstanding local friend who has offered to come at any time of day or night to be with Kees, and frees me on Sundays for church, for a funeral, for a theatre trip, for a hospital appointment? I could go on and on.
How am I to receive all this loving kindness? Of course I am grateful and this support keeps me going but it is hard to not worry about how to give something back. Have I responded to the letter or email? Should I buy some flowers or give a pot of my homemade marmalade? Then I am in danger of putting burdens on myself when these very people are trying to lighten my current burdens. At least we can sit down for a coffee together and I can listen to their concerns. But there I am – trying to get into the giving role again so I feel more at home.
This verse from the first letter of Peter speaks to me:
‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in good time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:6
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the November 2022 edition of Reform