Why Americans Have a Hard Time Receiving Love

Years ago, I was on a mission trip and my mission director bought me lunch because I didn’t have my wallet. Feeling guilty, I told him that I would buy him lunch another day. “It’s a gift,” he replied. “Americans don’t know how to receive gifts. You don’t owe me, don’t pay me back. I want to buy you lunch.”

His directness made his point. I know few people in my life who would not fight me if I offered to pay for their coffee, a three-dollar expense. I know few people who can easily accept generosity from someone else without trying to even the score. After all, this is the land of the American Dream where self-reliance is exalted as a cardinal virtue. While I value self-reliance, it is the giving and receiving of true love that helps us understand our own self-worth as well as the worth of the other.

True love is not a transaction; it is a gift meant to be received with joy. We are meant to bestow love at times but we are also meant to be the receivers. Why is it so hard for us to simply receive the free gift of love either given to us by our neighbor or by our God?

I have a few thoughts:

  1. We believe that we must earn love and approval: Think about this. Before you were born, the world was complete. God did not need you nor did creation. God conceived of you in His mind because He wanted to. You were not necessary; you were desired. From the very beginning of time, you were not made to earn love because you were made out of love. We so often think that it is goodness earns love when it is actually love that begets goodness. I look at my little girl who cannot earn anything. She can’t even talk and yet I didn’t know I could love someone so much. It is the same for us. The people in your life love you because of who you are not what you do. This is a reflection of how your creator feels about you, He sees you as you see the Grand Canyon; sheer delight that can’t be earned.

2. We do not believe that we are lovable: C.S. Lewis said that a thing must be loved to be lovable. The issue here is that we know our faults, ALL OF THEM. And they are loud. There was that time when we did this or said this or failed at this. Guess what, despite every fault and every bad choice, we are already loved. YOU are loved! As I mentioned, we were created out of love; therefore, every single one of us is worthy of love. We must believe this if we want to live is ones who are loved.

3. Humility is unpopular: When my mission director gifted me with lunch, I felt disarmed. I had to sit there, accept this small gift and do… well… nothing. Opening ourselves to the free gift of love is humbling. It leaves us vulnerable. American’s don’t like humility and we don’t live vulnerability. We like pride, American Pride. Humility, however, is necessary for us to receive love. Humility allows us to receive love freely and gratitude propels us to give love freely.

In this time, I believe that it is more important than ever that we become a people who are able to receive love.

Do you have trouble receiving love? KNOW that you are worth loving.