A very wise woman once told me that one of the easiest things that someone can do for someone else to show respect and that they care is to hold the door open for them. I really struggle with this because I hate when people hold the door open for me. Maybe it's the chip I have on my shoulder. Maybe it's my independent streak. But I am perfectly capable of opening a door. Unless my hands are full of boxes and bags. If the person is really far ahead of me, there is that awkward silence when they are waiting for me to get to the door. I feel like I have to hurry to be polite. Then there are the awkward pleasantries. I have to confess, sometimes, I run ahead to avoid having to hold the door open for other people or run up the stairs so I don't feel bad for not holding the door for them. Not because I don't care but because I am bad at small talk and pleasantries. I don't shut the door on people but I don't wait either. The woman's point is that it only takes a few secrets to hold the door open and that little act shows that that person is important. You don't hold the door open to make yourself feel better. You do it to make the other person feel better.
This ties in to a point that I have been thinking a lot about graciousness. My mom is a taker. That sounds bad but rarely is my mom offered something that she doesn't accept. Sometimes it is for selfish reasons. But there is a greater lesson in there. She doesn't always take to get things for herself. She often takes because the other person is offering. When someone offers something to someone, it makes them feel good. People feel good when they can do something nice for other people. Always turning down offers, while it may make yourself feel better for being unselfish, it may hurt someone else's feelings. I remember one time someone offered my mom $20 for something she did for them. I forgot what it was. My mom first refused. That is the polite thing to do. Then she accepted and turned around and put the money in the offering plate. It was a "pay it forward" moment. It taught me that sometimes accepting things is just as important as giving.
My MIL doesn't like to have people do things for her. She is constantly refusing when we offer her something. Whether it is dinner, to stay overnight or a cup of coffee in the morning. They never want to "impose". Sometimes they will drive home late to avoid imposing on us and staying over night. If they do stay overnight, they will get up and go in the morning saying they would rather stop at McDonald's for coffee and breakfast rather than trouble us. I am just offering bagels and cinnamon rolls - things that we are eating anyway. The other night, she was visiting and said she would rather take the kids and I out for dinner than have me make dinner - to give me a break. I make dinner every night. It's not a big deal. In some ways it has become a joke with us. We are constantly offering, knowing that they will refuse. It's hard not to start to think that I must be the worst cook in the world because she has rarely had dinner with us. Sometimes when she comes, she will bring the food for dinner and cook, rather than have me cook. Sometimes I just want to be able to do something for them. I can appreciate that they are trying to help. But I wish they would be more gracious and allow us to do something for them.
It's a fine line. But a line that I want to teach my children. It is better to give than receive. But it is also important be able to receive graciously. Not for yourself... but for others.