For me, perhaps for you, this is a time for giving and getting. It’s mostly getting for children and mostly giving for adults. As we grow in years, we mature to more giving and less getting. At age 76, I don’t need any “thing,” but I doubt that I’ll outgrow my need to be hugged, to be seen, to be understood, to be valued and affirmed.
Al Pesso, a friend who created a form of psychomotor therapy, identified for me our basic needs picture. Our basic needs were met when we were in the womb. Protection was provided by a bag of waters. Nurture was provided by the umbilical cord. Support was provided by having a place in the uterus. Limits were set — we could move, but only so far. Respect was provided when our mother was careful with her movement, and with what she took into her body.
When I was born, my basic needs were cared for by my parents and family. Each family member was careful to make sure that I was not hurt. Nurture was provided by milk, then soft foods, then a variety of helpful and healthy foods. Support was attended to when a home was provided and my day-to day needs were addressed. Limit setting was done by my parents who, out of caring, extended more freedoms gradually. Respect (coming from the same word base as spectacle) was provided by being in the loving gaze of my parents.
As we get older, more and more of our basic needs are met by the community. Our need for protection is met when we are away from family by government services such as police and ambulance workers and by caring individuals. Our need for support is provided by home builders and community services. Our need for nurture is provided by schools and farms and food pantries. Our need for limit-setting is provided by laws and courts. Our need for respect is addressed by people really seeing us, treating us humanely.
When we live in community, each one of us is accountable to every other one in some way for meeting the basic needs of life: the need for protection, nurture, support, limits and respect. Often we attend to each other’s needs through our giving and receiving
Our motivation for giving says a lot about who I am and who you are. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, sorted this out for me. She noted that if I am helping someone, I may be seeing him or her as helpless and that they will owe me — be in my debt. If I’m fixing a problem, I am seeing someone as broken — I am able, he or she is unable. If, however, I am serving someone, then I am seeing him or her as an equal, as a person of value.
What is our motive for giving? Is it to be well thought of? Is it habit — our parents gave, so we give? But a habit can die out in a generation or two. What is really needed are fresh expressions of love until not only our family is affected, but each life we touch. The image that captures me is a picture hanging in my bedroom of Jesus (a leader) washing the dirty feet of Peter (a disciple, a follower, a learner). Peter is stunned and awakened by this simple act of caring. Of course, some will take advantage of givers. Love then calls for setting limits. But for most, serving because you have been served will move life to satisfaction and to the hope for a day when a critical mass of loving servers will fulfill our hopes for justice and peace.
Justice by itself is not enough. Some see justice as “tit for tat.” Some see revengeful acts as justice. Justice must be yoked with seeing each person as an equal, as a child of God, made in God’s image and, therefore worthy to be loved and served. As Mother Teresa once put it, “We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.”
May your holidays be rich with warm relationships, gratitude and hope.