I have been thinking about posting something about graciously receiving since reading the discussion on churches holding baby or wedding showers for pastors, which was yesterday's Ask the Matriarch question over at RevGalBlogPals. That article was mostly about receiving gifts, and whether or not it is appropriate for a pastor to do so in the church context. GREAT discussion and ideas in the post itself AND in the comments! I highly recommend you take a look.
Reading the post and discussion had me thinking about gracious receiving in all its iterations, including that of compliments. And, by no mere coincidence, I actually read the email I got from DailyOM from Wednesday, and it was about "Receiving a Gift with Grace." You can read it here.
I learned about gracious receiving in great part from my friend Jen, who was a member of the church where I served as Interim Youth Director during seminary. She is one of the people in my life who has the best boundaries, who is very self-aware, who is capable of graciously stepping aside from duties she's been saddled with if she is feeling overwhelmed. She is also one of the most generous people I know -- she's the one who will go to the ends of the earth to get me exactly what I want for my birthday, and the summer before my third year of seminary when I was just about flat broke at all times, she took me out to delicious dinners and paid for me to paint pottery so we could hang out together while doing it. Even now that I am a *bit* more financially stable, she'll often grab the check when we have lunch or dinner together. She has taught me not to argue when someone wants to give you a gift, no matter how small or large (though of course the concerns about whether the gift is a tool of manipulation in a congregational setting apply...there are always exceptions to the rule.)
Jen also taught me that even if you are not happy with how you've performed, if someone wants to give you a compliment, you should accept it with grace, even if you feel unworthy. One Sunday, I sang a solo in the church, and I did quite a job on the high notes; it was a very less-than-stellar musical offering, to say the least. But the pastor complimented me and thanked me for my gift of music, and I remember giving a sort of wincing smile (in front of the whole congregation). After the service, Jen gave me a short, but effective, tongue-lashing, reminding me that if a compliment is paid, I should receive it with a smile and not rebuff the giver by shooing away the praise.
So, the article in the DailyOM about the transfer of energy when a compliment is received seemed especially poignant given what I have learned about how to handle another's generosity, whether it is with a physical token of appreciation or with a gift of verbal praise. It seems like a small thing, but especially in the context of serving a congregation, being able to graciously receive their compliments, whether on my preaching, my music, or my leadership, has been a life-changing experience. It allows me to open my heart to what the people want to say to me, and it also allows me to feel confident in my abilities (so that when the inevitable NON-compliment comes my way, I can handle it better.) Even small physical gifts have been received, and I have learned to return a gift in the form of sincere gratitude. It is a beautiful, circular exchange of positive energy!