strings – noun | \ˈstriŋs\
: a long, thin piece of twisted thread that you use to attach things, tie things together, or hang things
: a group of objects that are connected with a string, wire, chain, etc.
: a series of similar things
On Sunday during the Bible study I lead at church, we were talking about grace. First, we defined grace in our own words, and most of us came up with some version of “a gift from God we don’t deserve.” When I asked the group why people have a hard time receiving grace, we all agreed that generally people are suspicious of free gifts and would rather just know what they owed so they could pay back their debt.
Nobody likes the feeling that they owe someone.
It’s true. I’ve given a good many birthday and Christmas gifts simply because someone gave me a present first. When we’re the preemptive giver, we try to shrug it off. “You don’t owe me a thing. Consider it a gift. It was a gift for me to be able to give it.” And chances are, sometimes we mean it.
But too often, I struggle with no-strings-attached giving as much as receiving. I’m not talking about the strings of reciprocity. I don’t buy gifts or give to charities or do nice things for people because I want them to give me the same gifts or acts of service back. When I do these things, however, too often there are strings attached. I expect to receive attention, win their favor, or secure their gratitude or praise. Sometimes, the string is my own personal satisfaction for being a giver. When I give with these kinds of strings attached, it’s not truly a free gift.
On Monday after I’d made dinner and cleaned up, Steve and I were lying on the couch watching Madame Secretary on-demand, and I had a craving for an orange. Steve is a master at peeling oranges, and often brings me one in the evening without me even asking. But this time, when I asked, I ruined the opportunity for him to do this out of the goodness of his heart by reminding him that I had made dinner and done the dishes.
He eyed me suspiciously when I said.
“Too much tit-for-tat?” I asked him. He just shrugged and headed for the kitchen. He did peel an orange for me, but it wasn’t the same since I had set up as an unnecessary repayment for something I’d done. I attached the kind of strings that make serving each other in a family far too complicated.
Strings have their purpose: they hold things together and bind things that are loose. But they can also tie us in knots and trip us up when we leave the ends too long.
I want to be the kind of person who gives without strings attached. Looks like I have a ways to go yet.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
~ One word a week for one year; one life changed forever. ~
My Year in Words walks through a year in the life of author Charity Singleton Craig as she reflected on one word each week.
“It seemed like such an ordinary year at the time. If I hadn’t been recording it along the way, we might have missed it. My Year in Words is significant because I paid attention, I kept track, and I wrote it down.”