Since I get paid to be a professional Christian (Isn’t that what a Pastor really does during the week?), it won’t surprise you that I am usually on the giving end. I visit sick people in the hospital. I comfort those who have had a loved one die. I counsel individuals and couples who are in trouble. I marry couples who wish to be married. I give a lot, which is one of the things I love best about my job. More than that, Jesus says that it is better to give than to receive.
This week, I was on the receiving end of giving. It was different—like driving in the shotgun seat in Great Britain or trying a few new words in another language not your own. For me, receiving doesn’t come as easily.
My niece Annik was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. This was shocking and devastating news for my whole family. Annik’s mother, Ricanne, died of breast cancer at the age of 35. My own wife, Leslie, bravely faced breast cancer six years ago. Annik is just 23-years-old, fresh out of college and getting into her career. Young women in their early 20’s are not, and should not be, having conversations with oncologists about bilateral mastectomies, reconstructive surgeries, and chemotherapy treatments. But in the space of two weeks, Annik and her parents, my brother, Scott, and his wife, Barbara, have been having plenty of these.
On this Wednesday, June 24, Annik had her mastectomy at Sloan Kettering Hospital on the Upper Eastside of New York. I took the train to see Annik, Scott, and Barbara. I wasn’t looking to get on the receiving end, but a situation like this kind of puts you there whether you want to or not, or whether you like it or not. I won’t argue with Jesus that there is a blessing to be found in giving, but I also know that receiving also brings blessing to me, the receiver, and to the giver, too.
A friend of mine here at church calls his wife a “blessings thief.” Here’s what he means by that. This man’s wife hates to be on the receiving end; she despises it. She much prefers to help and to give. Her husband points out that her resistance to receiving deprives someone else of the blessing of giving.
I have been careful to steal no one’s blessings in the past two weeks. And so I’ll tell you about some of things I have received in the last couple of days. There is a nun who has been working as a chaplain at Sloan Kettering for 30 years. The sister is about half as tall as I am. She just celebrated her 70th anniversary of taking her vows. She is a 4-foot dynamo. I was sitting with Annik and her boyfriend, Danny, and her parents. I had prayed for Annik a little bit earlier (I had to do some giving!). I read Psalm 121 and wept with every word I read. We held hands, bowed our heads, and prayed. Again, I wept my way through the prayer. Then the sister appeared. Without closing her eyes or asking us to do the same, she prayed a powerful blessing upon us all. And she did it without a tear. So my niece got a wet blessing and a dry one.
On Thursday morning I was working in my study when there was a harsh knock on the door. It was Joe, the UPS driver, who has been delivering packages to us for years. He asked me how I was doing and then, as he always does, he asked how my wife is. I told him that Leslie was fine but could he please pray for Annik. With that, Joe fell to his knees, grabbing my hands and praying a fierce prayer of faith. He rose to his feet and gave me a bear hug before running off to his truck.
I sure have received a lot this week. It’s not so bad, I can tell you.