Over the past month, I have been trying out a concept that seems revolutionary to me: the key to a satisfying relationship is simply “giving freely.”
The idea comes from Erin Loechner’s book Chasing Slow. In it, she determines the key to a lasting marriage is “giving freely.” She refers to the Bible while presenting her conclusion. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8).
As I read that partial verse from the Bible, something clicked in my mind.
I have received a lot throughout my life. I was born into a dysfunctional blended family that was plagued by alcoholism. But my parents always loved me, I was always provided for, I was always healthy, I always had opportunity, I usually had joy. Above all, my mother taught me we are all innately worthy of respect and consideration. She cared for me and cherished me. I now have my own loving nuclear family in addition to our extended families, friends who bring a lot to my life, work that fulfills me.
Because I have received so much throughout my life, I am in a position where I can give freely. I can give my affection, my time, my energy, my experience, my supply. In short, I can--and it actually makes me happy--to give freely of all the best of me as I am very grateful to have received.
While testing this concept of giving freely in relationships, I have come to see the advantages of this approach. To begin with, it's relaxing to give without expecting anything in return. I can just be and not keep a mental tab of what is being received, what is being returned, what is being earned.
There is also a lot less risk of getting hurt. Since I am expecting nothing in return, it’s almost impossible to feel slighted. I can care deeply about a friend who is going through a hard time and make every effort to help. If once her crisis is over, she moves on with her life and away from me, it’s OK. I was giving freely. I didn’t expect reciprocity or even continuity in the friendship.
There is also less room for disappointment or resentment because not expecting anything in return lessens the desire to sway (some would say manipulate) through our actions. I can take the kids on Saturday morning and let my husband sleep in because I genuinely want him to rest--not because I want him to owe me and babysit at night while I go out with friends.
What about self-protection? Do we just give, even to those who hurt us? My perspective on this is probably not fully in line with the Bible’s charitable views. I say giving the best of us, even to those who aren’t returning the favor, can never be detrimental. However, since this is about giving freely, you shouldn't force yourself to give if you aren’t feeling it. So, if someone doesn’t inspire you to give, then don’t give.
What about when we feel depleted? This has happened to me a few times over the past month. I come to a place where I am just done, tapped out, exhausted. Instead of giving, I need to conserve, regenerate, recharge.
I first try closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, saying a prayer and looking within. That often helps give me an added boost to keep going until I can spend some time filling up my inner well. If that doesn’t work, I simply stop giving of myself. Most people haven’t seemed to notice the lull. For example, I had to stop texting with a friend who was experiencing great stress at work because I myself was overwhelmed. I then resumed the interaction a couple of days later when I felt better. I don’t think she noticed I checked out for a bit.
When it comes to my husband and kids, I can’t just fade away, so I let them know that I need to replenish myself. Can I take a few minutes to myself? Can we read just two books instead of four tonight at bedtime so I can go rest? Do you mind if instead of hanging out I just sit in bed and read my book?, I ask them. So far, they have been fine with my requests. My husband and my 3 year old even seem flattered that I am asking for their support. And in no time, I am back to a place where I can give of myself again.
What I find most interesting about giving freely is that everybody wins. I feel lighter loving this way because it reduces the amount of energy spent, the calculation behind my actions, and the possibility of disappointment. Those around me get the best of me, and a lot of it. Friends and family are getting a great deal, and we are getting liberated!