The Gift of Receiving Unexpected Generosity From Others

A few weeks ago, I found myself needing to request a shift off at my hospital where I work as a chaplain. However, while requests are needed to be made in advance, this was at the last minute and I had to find a colleague to replace me. With hospitals short-staffed and staff members emotionally burned out, I didn’t think my colleagues would be willing to take my shift for me. However, to my surprise, one of my colleagues who was already scheduled to work the shift before mine was to begin, offered to work mine as well.

For many of us, it’s harder to receive unexpected generosity from others than it is to offer unexpected generosity to others. Certainly, life provides us opportunities to share generosity with others every day: from offering to help a neighbor feed their pets while they’re away to offering generosity to the person behind you in line at the grocery store to go in front of you, we feel good taking an opportunity to share generosity with others.

But while most of us feel good when we have opportunities to share unexpected generosity with others, why is it often hard for us to receive generosity from others?

In my case as a hospital chaplain, having colleagues who are willing to go help me has made me feel tremendously grateful, but has also left me feeling undeserving.

For me, it might not only be my pride but also what I like to joke about as my “Irish guilt” which causes me to feel underserving when I receive generosity from others.

However, there are other reasons why we often struggle with receiving generosity from others. <a href=””><span style=”color: #0000ff;”>Dr. John Amodeo, Ph.D. wrote an article for Psychology Today</span></a> where he shared the many psychological reasons it’s harder for us to receive than to give.

In a spiritual context, particularly in my faith tradition of Christianity, scripture calls us to offer unexpected generosity to strangers and shares examples of strangers offering generosity. From the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to the story of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman who was seen as an outsider (Matthew 15:21), generosity has a deep spiritual connection to us. And the spiritual act of generosity through giving or receiving isn’t only found in the Christian faith tradition. <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><a style=”color: #0000ff;” href=””>Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Native American traditions</a></span> illustrate in their sacred texts the importance of generosity.

But how should we react when someone is generous with us, especially if it’s someone we barely know?

Certainly, sharing heartfelt appreciation through a telephone call, a thank you card, or a personalized gift are ways we can accept their generosity graciously. Beyond that, we can find ways to pass unexpected generosity on to others. In fact, after a stranger in front of me paid for my meal last week at the drive-thru of McDonald’s, I paid for the person behind me.

However, what I found to be most helpful when we receive unexpected generosity is simply to express our thankfulness – whether in prayer to God or in our own thoughts – that there are people out there who, despite the challenges we face in our world or our lives, offer generosity to us when we least expect it.

Throughout my life and the various personal challenges I have faced, I continue to be surprised by the unexpected gifts of generosity I have received from others, especially those I don’t know well or knew at all.

While I am not sure if God places people in our lives for specific reasons at specific times or if it’s merely the coincidence that allows us to receive unexpected generosity when we need it the most, these instances should warrant our appreciation for those who offer it to us. These instances should also serve as a reminder to us that despite the challenges we face in our lives, there are always helpers. “Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers would always say during times of personal or global challenge, “You will always find people who are helping.”