Charity: Being On The Receiving End

DH = Dear Husband

It dawned on me: We were receiving charity

We were walking towards our car after church that Sunday in late December, 1998. DH and I had our two young girls with us, and I was six months along with child number 3. Someone called out to stop us, and a friend approached with a big bag in her arms. She put it in my hands, keeping her eyes low, and just barely managed to say that it was a Christmas gift from the church. She clearly felt awkward, and she made her exit as quickly as possible.

It took a while for it to dawn on me: We were receiving charity. Our friend was on the committee that identified families in need of extra support over the holidays. “Thank you,” I said as she walked away. I found myself wanting to make her feel better. “This will make a difference.”

And it did.

DH had lost his job a month before. We’d moved into our “dream home” three months before that. And I was pregnant. Our financial wake-up was still more than a decade into the future, and for the time being, we were deer in the headlights. Big mortgage, big belly, big shock. An engineer and a teacher in our spacious new suburban home, we were nevertheless suitable candidates to receive that gift bag. And though it did feel strange, we accepted it with gratitude. It brought in a rush of warmth at a difficult time.

How you receive exposes how you give

Now be honest. How would you have felt if you had been the one in the parking lot receiving that charitable gift? Would you have felt grateful? Or ashamed? There’s a sort or respect in our culture for people who, no matter how dire their situation, refuse to accept charity from anyone. Their “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality can be admirable, but it can be a cold, stubborn pride too.

If you’re too ashamed to accept charity, what does that say about how you give? Doesn’t it suggest a contempt for the ones receiving your gift? Since they are in a position that would be shameful to you?

Charity when you “don’t deserve it”

“But you have to take ownership of the lousy financial position you were in after DH’s job loss in ’98,” you might say. And you’d be right. We had maxed out, and we had no emergency savings. We had made ourselves vulnerable, and we were feeling the consequences. But that didn’t cut us off from an expression of love.

The Christmas gift bag acknowledged and addressed our vulnerability. It didn’t bail us out. We did “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” in the years ahead. And we did eventually get our financial act together. The gift was symbolic of the fact that despite our imperfection, despite our mess, we were loved and valued. And that fact was essential to our foundation as we faced our imperfections and cleaned up our mess.

Still imperfect: Discretionary money mess

True confession: I’ve REALLY blown my discretionary money. DH and I budget a significant discretionary allowance for each other: $600 per month for personal essentials like shampoo and clothing, as well as for non-essentials like meals out and gifts. My poor management of my personal money (as opposed to DH’s disciplined management of his) has been a lingering imperfection that I haven’t overcome in the 4½ years since our journey out of debt began in June of 2012.

Here are the ugly details of my latest discretionary fail:

  • 3 years ago, I cut my credit card, determined never to use debt again. (A Dave Ramsey move. He’s our guru.)
  • It soon became apparent that in Canada, it really is difficult to live without a credit card. (In the U.S. Visa debit can be used just as widely as credit cards. In Canada, that isn’t the case.)
  • In the spring of 2016, I got a credit card again – attached to my discretionary account.
  • Almost immediately, my limited discipline for discretionary spending evaporated.
  • The credit card made it possible for me to go into debt in my discretionary fund.
  • I did. And the debt grew over the months. To $1,000.
  • This month, I moved my credit card debt over to a line of credit that I got for my discretionary account – at a much lower interest rate.
  • My credit card is now locked in the fire box until I need it.
  • I have started to track my discretionary spending with pen and paper. I have put the paper up on the fridge so that EVERYBODY can see it.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Still hoping for a happy ending here!

Still accepting charity without “deserving it”

“You have to take ownership of the lousy state of your discretionary account.” I do! I’m owning my bad habits, and I’m doing what I can to try to change them (see last point above). This month, I’m on heightened awareness mode, heightened intention mode, trying to nip my spending triggers in the bud. It’s tough!

A birthday invitaion

A colleague invited me to her 40th birthday party this month. It’s being held at a restaurant. “I can’t buy a meal at a restaurant,” I knew. But maybe I could just buy a drink? I approached my colleague about it. She reads my blog, so I could share my dilemma. She understood. She was in a dilemma herself – feeling a guilt for the fact her party was at a restaurant. Life was too busy to do it any other way though. But there would be no way around buying a meal. For buffet night, everyone would be charged the same (low) amount no matter what they had. “If you shouldn’t spend the money on a meal, don’t come. I get it, and I respect you.” My eyes welled up. Charity doesn’t always come in the form of materials or money.

Coffee shop

Friends from high school invited me out for coffee after work earlier this month. “I can’t buy any food,” I decided in advance. “I’ll stick to tea.” I was, of course, assaulted by all sorts of heavenly food smells when I entered the coffee shop ahead of my friends’ arrival. Fierce in my determination, I stared at options for tea. “Hi Ruth!” said my friend from out of town as she breezed in. “You must be starving. Let me buy you something.” She reads my blog too. “I’m going to say ‘Yes’ to that.” I responded, my stoic intention giving way to relief and gratitude. But she could tell that I didn’t feel completely comfortable about it. “Good,” she said. “There’s a grace in receiving you know.”

Receiving and giving charity: two sides of the same coin

At the end of last year, I wrote a post about Vanessa, a student who had been a refugee from the Congo in 2014. I was struck by the generosity of Vanessa’s giving on the one hand, and the confidence of her gratitude in accepting on the other. “Sometimes giving, sometimes receiving . . . Vanessa is equally comfortable in both roles. Happy to offer, and not too proud to accept.”

Receiving and giving: two sides of the same coin. Although it can be difficult in our culture to learn to receive with grace – especially when we “don’t deserve it”- it’s an attitude worth learning. Not to be enabled. Not to be protected from our imperfections. But to move forward with less friction and more support. Only when you learn to receive with grace will you be in a position to give with grace.

Do you find it more difficult to receive than to give? Can you think of a time when someone’s generosity towards you had a big impact? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of

24 comments on “Charity: Being On The Receiving End

    1. “It can be a humbling experience.” True. Humility is a good thing : )
      (Pride can turn “humbling” into “humiliating” – which is not a good thing.)

  1. That was a nice story about giving and receiving. You already know how I feel about that whole discretionary money thing, so I won’t bore you with my rants. Just make sure you are enjoying every day to the fullest Ruth. You’re a child of God, so of course you deserve it! 🙂

  2. I was on the receiving end last year when I was given a $20 gift certificate for groceries from a complete stranger who said she wouldn’t use it. I thanked her profusely. And then I felt guilty. I didn’t NEED it. But my heart swelled with gratefulness for the gift. I made sure to pay it forward soon after, though.

    My in-laws have returned gifts we’ve given them right back to us. We’ve given them gift cards to thank them for keeping our dog while we were on vacation – only to have the gift cards returned to us. That’s just one example – it happens all the time. Honestly, it feels almost like a slap in the face when it’s returned. I wish they could say “thank you” and accept it.

    “Only when you learn to receive with grace will you be in a position to give with grace.” Thank you for this!

    1. I hope that when you paid it forward (after receiving the $20 gift card for groceries), it wasn’t from the “guilty” part, but from the “gratefulness” part.
      I get what you mean by saying you wish your in-laws would just accept your gifts. They are happy to give to you, but not to receive from you – so they’re denying you the happiness of giving. Go figure!

  3. I think it’s easy to line up receiving something like this with failure, and people don’t want to see themselves as failures so they reject the help. But those two things DON’T go hand in hand, and if people can realize it, they can see that the help is something to get them through a tough time and something that can get them back on success.

    It’s a lot to do with perspective.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. “people don’t want to see themselves as failures so they reject the help.” You’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s easy to see that from the outside. More difficult for some to see it when they’re involved.

  4. I do think there is a bit of pride involved when accepting charity. I know at least that’s how I feel. Since I’m flexing my giving muscle a bit more these days it helps me be more open to accepting it myself.

    Your struggles with discretionary money is a great reminder, not matter how far we’ve come, or success we have had handling our money it is easy to fall back into old habits. Good luck tackling this speed bump.

    1. So “flexing your giving muscle” is breaking through that bit of pride and making you more open to receive. I love that! Thanks for the encouragement on the discretionary spending front, Brian. Seems to be more or a brick wall than a speed bump : )

  5. I think it can be hard for people to receive charity, or even benefits they qualify for, because we often hear criticism claiming that people are abusing the system. So even if you are truly in need, you may feel judged by others. I would hope we could stop judging each other and instead be of a giving and receiving mindset where we don’t have to keep score. I know that giving makes me feel good, and I hope that if I’m ever on the receiving end, I feel the generosity of the giver more strongly than my own pride.

    1. “I hope that if I’m ever on the receiving end, I feel the generosity of the giver more strongly than my own pride.” Well said! Your comment points to the fact that trust is an issue for some in receiving. They have a hard time trusting the generosity of others, and instead see judgment.

  6. You’ve got me thinking again, Ruth. For many years we were ashamed to accept charity, but not because we thought we were too good to accept help, but b/c we thought we weren’t good enough to receive the gift of it. I’ll be writing more about this on Monday. 🙂

  7. I personally have found that being involved in a church family is a true lesson in giving and receiving charity. My husband and I love to give and do so regularly (being debt free is the key) and have been on the receiving end as well over the years. I think the most memorable time was many years ago when we had the “lack of money discussion” and came home to find a lovely ham roast on our doorstep. We were awestruck and shared that ham in our home study group’s potluck that week …

    1. I love it that you ended up sharing what you had been given : ) I’m curious: Was your “lack of money discussion” just between you and your husband? Or were others involved? Did one of the others – if they were involved – provide the ham? Or was the fact that it was there for you right at that time a total “coincidence”?

      1. Our discussion was between us and God. We never found out who gave us that ham, but it truly showed us how God provides in mysterious ways … and it was delicious!!

  8. We have received charity this past year as well when we were in some tight spots as our family car broke down right before we were to go on a Christmas trip. We were going to rent a car as we didn’t want to “mooch” from our relatives.

    We ultimately ended up borrowing their car otherwise they were going to pay for the rental. That family members love language is “helping”.

    A challenge for us is when to give & when to accept. We have fortunately never hit “rock bottom” and absolutely needed charity to get through to keep on going. Our extended family made my career transition a reality, so you can say my wife & I have been spoiled.

    1. I don’t think you need to hit rock bottom to receive – any more than you need to be at the mountain peak to give. I would say that you and your wife have been blessed – not spoiled. If you had an entitled attitude, then I’d say you were spoiled, but you clearly don’t. I’m glad you have a supportive extended and in-law family, and I’ll bet that you and your wife are just the kind of people who will pay it forward some day : )

  9. For me personally, it is definitely easier to give than to receive. I can’t even take a compliment properly, let alone receive anything else meant to be helpful. But I am thankful when I can brighten someone else’s day with something whether it’s a hug, a smile, a listening ear, food, etc…

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mackenzie. I wonder why you can’t receive what you enjoy giving? (That could be a whole post, couldn’t it?) My wish for you is that you would learn – or maybe the word is shift – to be in a place where you can be blessed by what others give you. Compliments included : )

  10. Awesome topic and great insights, Ruth. Both my family and my husband’s received some government assistance when we were young. Rather than feeling ashamed of that, I’m grateful that our families received the help they needed, which helped our parents get to the point that they no longer needed assistance. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

    Today, our families are very generous to us in relation to their financial situations. Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt over receiving from them when we are financially stable, but mostly I know they love to give and I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful that they’ve modeled generosity to us and we can now model that for our children.

    1. “That’s how the system is supposed to work.” You are right! I’m so glad that in both your case and your husband’s, social assistance fulfilled its purpose for your parents and their families. It makes sense to me that your parents’ gratitude has expressed itself in generosity. Good, good, and good all around!

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