Dear Older Self,
When you were a young adult you did not know how to receive. Instead of paying attention to your needs, you hid behind a life of constant giving. Staying busy helping others protected you from the vulnerability that comes with exposed needs. Giving to others was a way of guarding against disappointment, hurt and shame.
Fortunately you have learned a lot about receiving over the years. You have learned to let go of some of your fear, to come out of hiding, to let yourself need others and to receive from others. You have learned to let others into your heart and life. With God’s help, you have been able to put down the draw bridge and walk out into the wide open spaces where love dwells.
You are now in a time of life when you will be more actively receiving and less actively giving. Your need for help will be greater. If you run back to your fortress and hide you will do so at great peril and loss.
It turns out that receiving is as important as giving. Our role as receivers is built into the structure of the universe. It is built into the basic reality that we are creatures, dependent on our Creator for our every breath. Life is a gift given by God. It is a gift which we receive. One breath at a time. God gives and gives and gives. We receive and receive and receive.
Receiving is also built into the structure of life with others. We need each other. No matter how convinced we are of our independence, we are all interdependent. Our capacity to receive from our Creator and from each other is essential to our survival. Receiving is a crucial life skill.
So, dear older self, embrace your growing identity as a receiver. It might help to remind yourself that receiving graciously is a sacred practice. Keep in mind that it is a central part of letting go of your pride to get ready for heaven—as your ninety-seven year old friend said—including the heaven here and now of being loved and cared for.
Perhaps the most effective way to lean into the sacred work of receiving is to actively express your gratitude. Breathe in “thank you,” breathe out “thank you” to God. And say “thank you” to every one who reaches out to you, every one who offers you any help and support. Saying thank you is the act of actively, fully receiving the gifts and the giver. So go right ahead and be extravagant with expressions of gratitude.
It might also be helpful to keep in mind the times when you have learned to receive. Remember the long season when you were restricted from driving for health reasons? You had to ask family and friends to drive you to work, to the store, on errands. It was not easy. You felt like a burden, a problem. But you did ask. And people responded warmly, generously. You were moved by their love. This love changed you as you received it. You listened as loved ones who drove you told you that it was a blessing to have this time with you. That it was a treat for them to give you this gift. That they looked forward to the days when they were scheduled to drive you. And you listened with sweet amazement as your grown children told you that you had driven them for years, and they were happy to drive you now.
Keep in mind as well times when you were blessed by loved ones in the generation before you who learned to receive with humility. One woman you cared for came to gradually accept your offers of rubbing lotion on her dry, chapped feet. She was hesitant at first, but she eventually was able to accept your offers. A couple of times she even opened up enough to get a twinkle in her deep blue eyes and ask, “I don’t suppose you would like to put some lotion on my feet would you?” In those moments you felt like you caught a glimpse of the pure joy Jesus experienced when he washed his disciples’ feet.
You often return to the memory of one of those times when she received this gift from you. You can picture her leaning back, relaxing, fully open to receive. The afternoon light, filtered through the pine trees off the deck, streaming in on your heads. The two of you laughing together. The surprise sensation of the joy of this giving and receiving feeling like water tumbling and splashing freely over you both. It was not only her feet that were being washed and rubbed with lotion, it was both your spirits that were being cleansed and renewed.
What you understood in those moments was that by receiving from you, she was giving to you. She was giving you the gift of taking in your kindness. She was acknowledging, blessing, making room for your gift of love.
Dear older self, I want you to remember that you still hold close to your heart moments in which you were able to give to the elderly in your life, especially those moments when your giving was received, the moments when your giving and their receiving truly became a sacrament for you both. I want you to keep in mind that as you make room for people to give to you, as you receive the help of others with gratitude, love will grow, richer bonds will form, a thing of great beauty will be created.
The sacred practice of receiving does not mean that you will no longer give. It is clear that even in your receiving, you will be giving. You will bless the one who gives to you. You will bless them in your receiving as you respond with gratitude, as you open to the love that flows from their kindness.
Embrace the sacred practice of receiving with gratitude. You will be blessed, even as you bless those who give to you.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com