Last week I had the pleasure of celebrating a dear friend’s birthday with dinner and a movie. This friend is a lover of language and story and artful filmmaking, and the movie we watched was a DVD she had thoughtfully chosen as a gift to me when we celebrated my birthday in June: The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is based on a book of the same name. It stars Dan Stevens, with a powerful and often scene-stealing assist from one of my favorite actors, Christopher Plummer, and it tells the story of how Charles Dickens created the character and story of Scrooge in one of the best-selling books of all time, A Christmas Carol.
Don’t worry, there’s no spoiler alert here. I’ll just say that I heartily recommend the movie, which is refreshingly creative and effortlessly engaging. The actors bring their characters to life in ways that are both subtle and dramatic. If you like the story of how Scrooge transformed from a miserly man of business to a generous man of the heart who knew how to keep Christmas – and maybe even if you don’t like the story – I think you’ll like this movie.
One of the many things I appreciated about the relaxed, fun-filled evening with my friend was that her gift to me became my gift back to her as we enjoyed the movie together. I have two big, comfy chairs in my living room, and each of us snuggled into one as a toasty fire blazed in the fireplace between us. I’m pretty sure cozy afghans were called into service, too. It was the perfect time and setting for watching a perfect holiday movie.
That evening with my friend got me thinking about Scrooge, and about the oft-repeated adage that it’s better to give than to receive. I’ll cut to the chase here: I think that adage is illogical at best and harmful at worst. It’s illogical because giving and receiving are two aspects of a singular dynamic. Without someone to receive our gifts, the act of giving has no real meaning or purpose.
It can be harmful if it triggers a sense of guilt or even unworthiness in receiving what we need or want; after all, if we’re on the receiving end we’re on the “not better” end. It can also be harmful if it provokes us into giving out of remorseful obligation rather than from the generous and noble spirit of our willing hearts.
And there’s something else. The adage that it’s better to give than to receive misses the point entirely that we cannot give unless we have received. The receiving I’m speaking of here is not only the receiving of gifts and support from each other. It is the opportunity each of us has to come into harmony with Source (or Creator, the Divine, Spirit, God, the Universe, etc.), from which we receive our very Life Force and the guidance, energy and inspiration we need to live joyfully and purposely.
When we cut ourselves off from that all-loving Source, we cut ourselves off from our innate kindness and generosity. And one of the most common and fundamental ways we cut ourselves off from Source is by falsely believing ourselves to be unworthy to receive and enjoy the goodness of life. This belief must be seen for the imposter that it is so that we can release it.
If we look closely at the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, we see that the Spirit of Christmas Past visited him first, as Dickens wisely knew she must. In the earliest scene from his past, Scrooge is struggling to believe the encouraging words offered to him by his beloved sister Fan, who had come to tell him that their father wanted him to come home for Christmas.
Their father had always been indifferent toward Ebenezer, so he couldn’t quite believe what Fan was saying. He had long interpreted his father’s coldness as evidence of his unworthiness; he didn’t understand how grossly his father’s perspective had been distorted through his immense grief at the loss of his beloved wife, who had died giving birth to Scrooge. Thanks to Fan’s earnest persistence, though, Scrooge became hopeful enough to believe that his father had changed. And he was hopeful enough to believe something else.
In that pivotal scene, a tiny yet life-altering crack was made in Scrooge’s self-perception: he could sense himself as worthy of receiving compassion from his father. Yet like so many of us, after having had a moment of revelation about the glorious truth of who we are, he wasn’t able to sustain that opening; his habits of self-suspicion, which inevitably morphed into suspicion of others, were strong. Later we see him unable to receive kindness from his fiancée, Alice. As we all know, his heart kept hardening from there.
Yet in watching the scenes from a different vantage point, with the very presence of the Spirit of Christmas Past a validation of his innate worthiness, the crack was once again opened. And this time, he kept it open long enough to allow the compassion to grow not only for himself, but for his nephew.
Like Scrooge, his nephew had come into the world just as his mother was leaving it. And like Scrooge’s father, the hard-hearted Scrooge had, in his own distorted and enraged grief, blamed the nephew for the loss of his beloved sister.
In viewing these scenes from his past, Scrooge was able to recognize how false both his and his father’s conclusions had been. He was able to see and feel what he had so long deprived himself of because of a heart that was closed to receiving kindness – and therefore unable to give it.
This is the nuance that is often overlooked in the story. The message often emphasized with respect to A Christmas Carol is that, through giving, Scrooge was transformed. And it’s gloriously true that giving from the heart expands us into more and more of who we are. It feels good, and it is good.
Yet the deeper truth is that we cannot give genuinely and generously to others unless we have allowed ourselves to receive the goodness of life. Had Scrooge been unable to feel compassion for himself – to receive it as the balm for the soul that it is – he would have been unable to give it to his nephew. Had he not recognized his worthiness to receive and enjoy the sweetness of life, he could not have recognized or acted upon the innate generosity of his spirit.
Nothing can be given that isn’t first acknowledged and embraced as one’s own, and nothing can be embraced as one’s own before it is received.
The way I understand it, Source is the original Giver and we, the blessed Receivers. It might even be accurate to say that we are created as infinitely diverse outlets for Source’s giving. Our receivership is an essential aspect of who we are and why we’re here.
From Source we receive Life itself and its many glorious qualities of expression such as joy, compassion, intelligence, thoughtfulness, creativity, focus, understanding, appreciation and countless others. From each other we receive the specific forms and expressions those qualities assume as they flow through the uniqueness of the giver to the receiver.
When my friend gave me the DVD last June, I was truly delighted to receive it. I felt understood and appreciated, and it was lovely to receive her appreciation of me in the form of a perfectly chosen gift. Understanding and appreciation are the natural expressions of Source; a charming, entertaining and highly literate film is a tangible expression of appreciation that naturally flows through my dear friend.
On her birthday last week, I was equally delighted to share my cozy home as the perfect setting for the after-dinner-movie segment of her birthday celebration. I wanted her to feel appreciated, too. The appreciation of Source flowed through me as the offering of physical comfort and warmth. And she was quite pleased to receive it, which was a gift back to me.
Giving and receiving really are two aspects of a single dynamic. One cannot be better than the other. And neither can genuinely occur between us as individuals unless we first open to receive the goodness of Life from Source.
So this holiday season, I hope you’re finding time to do things that nurture your soul and help you maintain harmony with Source. I hope that, in your harmony with Source, you’re taking pleasure in choosing and offering gifts you feel your friends and family will enjoy. Not because it’s better to give than to receive, but because giving from the heart feels good.
I also hope you’re taking pleasure in receiving the wonderful gifts from friends and family that uniquely express the appreciation of Source, flowing through your friends and family to you – because receiving from the heart feels good, too.
And you are worthy of feeling good. Remember that, always.
I wish you a peaceful, nourishing and beautiful holiday season. May the coming New Year open us all to the immense goodness of Life in breathtaking and magnificent ways.
Copyright © 2019
Suzanne E. Eder
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