Heading to work one day last week, I was feeling pretty depleted from my husband being out-of-town, and the morning being filled with getting the kids on the school bus, so I stopped by Starbucks for a latte. We are on a tight February budget, but I had a gift card I received for Christmas. On the way there, I decided to buy some coffee beans with my gift card as well as there was not a lot of room in the February grocery budget for a bag of coffee.
Standing in line with my reusable cup and pound of coffee, I noticed a placard announcing a special: one $5 gift card when you buy a pound of coffee beans. “Wow, it’s my lucky day!”
When it was my turn at the front of the line, the barista took my order, handed me my $5 gift card, and waved me away, telling me that my order “had already been taken care of by someone who was feeling generous.”
I…I…was a recipient of another’s Random Act of Kindness.
I’m guessing that the giver had expected to make people smile at the very least – but perhaps even to realize the deep-rooted kindness of humans to each other.
My reaction trouble me more than a little. Surprise…and then guilt. “I don’t deserve this.” “I wish I hadn’t gotten the pound of coffee – I mean it’s one thing for someone to buy me a drink, but this?” “Oh great! Now I have to figure out how to pay it forward and I am strapped for cash.” “But I could afford this – why should I be getting something for nothing?”
I tried to revel in the joy of receiving a Random Act of Kindness, but I was left bewildered and unsettled. And I guessed that was not an appropriate reaction.
I don’t think I have ever been any good at receiving. Who teaches you to receive? Isn’t it “better to give than to receive,” and isn’t it (more than) a teeny bit selfish to think about receiving? Sure, we are taught to say “Thank you” and be polite, even if we don’t like the gift. But aren’t we supposed to really focus our energy and get our joy from giving to others?
Brene Brown says in Daring Greatly that we never think we are enough. “I am not needy enough, not stressed enough, not worthy enough, not grateful enough, not generous enough to receive a gift. If I have stresses, it is my own fault and I need to figure out how to handle them instead of receiving energy from other human beings. If I can’t, well, I’m not strong enough either.
When life feels hard or stressful or exhausting, I chastise myself, telling myself my problems are “First World Problems.” After all, who am I to complain? Look at all I have to be grateful for! Who am I to not be joyful all the time? I have a wonderful family, a steady job, a safe home, and food in the pantry.
Does receiving fully actually require vulnerability?
When we receive, we are not in control. We are not in control of the gift that is given. We are not in control of determining whether we deserve it, or how big it is, or whether we are able to pay it back. To receive from others, we have to believe that we are enough, and that we deserve kindness, just because. And ideally, there is no expectation that we are able to return the gift in kind.
A well-meaning stranger just wanted to treat the next few Starbucks customers to coffee and a smile, but I am wondering if this person had no idea what I think the real gift might have been: the emotional and cognitive dissonance that forces me to examine some really hard questions.
May I learn to receive gracefully and joyfully when it is my turn, and give gracefully and joyfully when I have energy to spare…