Sunday, January 17, 2010

Give or Take a Little

Sourdough muffins with vanilla, cinnamon, and crushed, roasted pecans were the surprise waiting on the small, round bistro table of my office break area this last week. On another occasion, it was a watermelon salad with onion, fennel, feta cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. One of my favorites was a bouillabaisse stew with leeks, onions, sea bass, shrimp, scallops, clams, and muscles. Usually I am not a deep sea food fan, but that one was scrumptious!

Tanni, a close friend of mine for many years, is an amazing cook. She also has a passion for interior design, floral arrangements, and landscaping. Whatever she touches turns to gold, and she has a habit of touching quite a few things, and people. Occasionally she will fix up something delicious to share with fellow workers in the office just for their enjoyment, and hers. Tanni has the ability to put a smile on someone’s face in a snap, once the aroma wafts past their senses and the presentation of her gourmet treat pleases the eye. These sensations are just the appetizers for a taste that has yet to disappoint me. She has never fixed something that I haven’t loved.

I have noticed something interesting about Tanni’s creations. Everyone is willing to sample something delicious, but not everyone is willing to reciprocate. And, really, it’s hard, because few others cook like she does. I find myself wanting to do something to return the favor, however, and not just enjoy her cooking.

Another close friend, Kerstin, has taught me a lot about sharing things of value. She has a deep passion for music and the arts. Her singing voice is beautiful, emotive, and natural. Her music is full of expression and feeling. Consequently you sense more than her voice when she sings. While she is not self-promoting, I have always found Kerstin willing to share her talents if it will help someone else. She, too, has the ability to put a smile on someone’s face as their hearts are touched by the gift that she shares. Her music is valuable because it is heartfelt and selfless. In a performance setting, I have watched her figuratively step out of the spotlight and turn the focus from herself to what she hopes the audience will feel and experience. She prefers to share a wonderful performance without taking any credit.

Recently, while we were discussing things that we have shared, Kerstin said, “Why keep tally? I don’t have a ‘fair’ chart. It really doesn’t matter whose turn it is.” I appreciate her sentiment that sharing is about giving, and not just exchange. For me, giving without attached strings reflects purer motivations. It gets closer to the heart of charity.

My wife, Liz, is a wonderful example of giving. In the fifteen years of our marriage, I don’t know that I have ever seen her pick up a hobby that didn’t involve doing something for someone besides herself. She loves to scrapbook, but mostly because she treasures the memories of our family and the growth of our children. It is exciting to see the smiles on their faces as we look through old books and remember past experiences together. Liz loves to cross-stitch and sew for other people. Whether it is an article of clothing, a costume, a quilt, or some other home furnishing, she takes great satisfaction in giving her work away. Liz is also a wonderful cook. She has a very intuitive approach that is simple, practical, and delicious. I love to smell her freshly cooked bread come out of the oven ready to receive a butter glaze. My small twinge of reluctance when she wants to give her bread away is eased by a promise that she will make more. Thank goodness she keeps her word. Knowing that each of these things take time, and that Liz values time over most things, her gifts have great value to me.

With our children, I am trying to teach them to show their mother gratitude and appreciation by helping and not just taking. The bread is delicious, and it satisfies the senses, but there are still dishes to be done, and messes to be cleaned up. I think they are learning little by little.

Each of these examples has caused me to reflect on the difference between giving and taking. Anyone can take, but not everyone is willing to give. Yet, because there are those who do give so freely, many are better for it. There is more power in giving than in taking.

Giving adds tremendous strength to any relationship. When we consider friendships and family relationships that are meant to be eternal, we can strengthen those relationships by giving of ourselves and the things that we place high value on. This is especially applicable with our relationship with God.

If we wish to live with our Father in heaven again, that reward comes with a price. Fortunately, by the grace of God, the price for our sins has already been paid. Jesus paid that price with His own blood. All that is left for us to do is to accept His gift by offering the only thing we can offer in return, namely our discipleship and obedience.

Under the Law of Moses, ancient Israelites worshipped God by offering sacrifices. They offered their best. By giving up something of great value to themselves, they demonstrated their faith and love towards God. Those who did not have the means to give a large offering would bring what they could, which might be a couple of turtle-doves instead of a lamb. This law continued until the death of Jesus Christ, which ended sacrifices by the shedding of blood as a part of worship. These ordinances were replaced by the sacrament, which was to be done in remembrance of the Lord’s body and His blood which was shed for all mankind.

Just prior to His appearance to the people in the ancient Americas following His resurrection, Jesus revealed that burnt offerings were to be done away, and that, “ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (3 Nephi 9:20) While the sacrifice would no longer be completely consumed, the offering was still intended to be complete.

If we combine these two principles – first, that the burnt offerings were to be replaced by the sacrament, and second, that by so doing we are to offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit – the act would suggest that when we prepare ourselves to partake of the sacrament we should be willing to make an offering and not just take the bread and water.

Similarly, if I go to church to worship, do I go merely to receive, or do I go prepared to offer and participate? I want to be clear here that both are acceptable. There are times in our lives when we may be subject to weakness and lack strength. Those are the times that our offering is the size of a pair of doves. However, when we are strong and we wish to show our true devotion, we should be prepared to offer our very best. If we are able to give more, a large sheep or bull may not be sufficient. So it is worth asking, “What can I give, and what am I willing to give?”

Along with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, I can show Father that I will do whatever He requires if I am also willing to give my time, my talents, and my possessions to build up His kingdom. If I am willing to share these precious things with others, He will count it as though I had shared it with Him.

Perhaps it is not fair to suggest that all taking is bad, either. There is a difference in taking something that is offered as opposed to taking something that is not mine, or taking something prematurely because I am not patient. When a gift is offered, it is my responsibility to accept it, and take it, if I choose. Otherwise I can choose to decline. If I accept, then I should also take with a thankful heart.

Another instance of taking which is very appropriate is to receive instruction and follow. For instance, we have been commanded to take upon us the name of Christ, and not in vain. Taking the name of the Lord in vain is not just repeating His name without reverence. It also means that we accept Him, not just in word but in every action. If we profess to be disciples of Jesus but do not exemplify Him, are we not taking His name upon ourselves in vain? To truly take upon us His name means that we will make every effort to become like Him. Jesus becomes our spiritually begotten Father as we are born again and overcome the effects of spiritual death through His atonement. In this way, we take His image into our own countenances.

When we partake of the sacrament, we take the emblems of His body and blood into our own beings. If we are sincere in our repentance, we will take our covenants seriously when we renew them at the sacrament table. If we intend to remember Jesus and follow Him, then we will also be willing to take up our own cross and deny ourselves of all ungodliness. We will take His charge to bear one another’s burdens. So many of the things the Lord asks us to take involve taking more work and more responsibility for doing His will. Yet even in this effort of taking, we will find relief.

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Repeatedly in the scriptures, the use of the words “give,” “offer,” “receive,” and “take” have consistent meanings. The Lord’s instruction to “take” is usually associated with selflessness and a willingness to do more, not less. He expects a true disciple to give up what is important so that the Lord can give us more. We offer our faith, and we receive greater blessings.

Because there is such great power in giving, rather than taking with selfish intent, it is worth asking ourselves the questions, “Do I give more than I take? When I take, do I replenish and give more back?” If we cannot answer yes, we may not be tapping into the power that is available for us to reach our full potential. The ability to give and give up also creates the opportunity to receive and offer more.

There are many things we can do that have the potential to draw us nearer to God, yet our attitude will largely determine how much. I may attend church, but do I merely go to listen and “take things into my daily life,” or do I go with the intent to give and offer something in return? If I fill a service assignment, do I accept because I know I will claim some blessing or reward, or do I do it out of love and appreciation? If I do something with the intent to take, I limit my ability to receive greater strength. But, if I perform the same action with the desire to give, my intent can transform the experience and yield much greater results.

The intent of the heart has more power than we may give it credit. The change in direction between giving and taking is 180 degrees. They are opposites. Whether we give or take a little may seem insignificant, but the direction of our motives sets the course for our final destination. A deliberate choice to follow the Savior by consistent giving is a sure path to find him. The difference between “give or take” is more than just a little. It all depends on intent.

No comments:

This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.