When you can’t repay

I sneak her a little box of chocolates (these are just for you!) because I think every woman needs chocolate, right? I bought one for myself too. I tell her it’s one of my weaknesses. Little things you share when you spend time together.

Her family and mine have been friends for a couple years. They’ve been in a pit even longer. Once you get too deep, it’s hard to climb back up. So we help as we can. Not big things to us. Bigger to them.

One day we’re on a Walmart run. The mom and I look at baby things; the dad and toddler slip off elsewhere. We converge at the checkout.

And he gives me this.


And she buys me a Hershey’s candy bar. I want to say no! You don’t need to do anything for me. You can’t afford it.

But sometimes when you can’t pay back, you desperately want to say thanks.

And you can let yourself be thanked.

Most of our friendships work like this: You treat me to dinner. I treat you to dinner. I buy you a birthday gift. You buy one for me. Round and round we go.

Until we can’t.

When the thing is too big to repay in kind, we need to give up trying to repay and just say thank you.

It works incredibly well.

Let’s let go of the guilt when we can’t repay. And let’s release the debt we hold over others. We can’t afford either one.

God doesn’t work on a merit system.
His preferred method is grace.

Grace given. Grace received. Thank you very much.

It’s his idea. He started it. He’ll finish it. We get to enjoy it all in between.

So for my card I say thank you very much. I’ll keep it.

And the chocolate, I eat every bite.

It’s all grace.

* * *

Is it harder for you to receive grace or to give it? Please share in the comments.

38 thoughts on “When you can’t repay

  1. Dianna

    I have to admit…it is easier, much easier, for me to give than it is to receive. I have also been on the receiving end of times like you’ve shared here, Lisa, and the look of love on the “giver” makes it so much easier to just say “thank you”. Thank you for the reminder of GRACE.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I know many of us agree with you Dianna–it’s easier for us to give. But also yes, seeing the look of love on the “giver” is something we don’t want to deny another person either. It is all grace!

  2. David

    You do have to be sensitive when giving. You have to give the recipients some avenue of paying back in some way. At all costs avoid the merry-go-round of escalating gratitude. We avoid sending Christmas cards to some of the local farmers for this kind of reason.

    But the tiniest avenue provided and taken and acknowledged can be even more affecting than the initial gift.

    I’m not very good at receiving, but I would never say no to a Hershey bar!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hear you–there are times when we don’t “give” (at least not in a traditional way) because we know it would trigger that merry-go-round that the other person might not could participate in (or not want to!). I wish all our giving and receiving could be with no strings attached….

      Never say no to a Hershey bar–sounds like a great commercial. 🙂

  3. Linda@Creekside

    I remember once giving a gorgeous plant to a relative of my husband. We had chosen the most vibrant one we could find, truly wanting to show her honor.

    When we gave it to her, she made such a big deal that we shouldn’t have spent the money, shouldn’t have bothered, shouldn’t have this and that.

    We left disappointed. Unappreciated. Embarrassed.

    I never forgot that day, her inability to show grace or appreciation. The experience left its mark on my soul.

    Sometimes all we need to do is say thank you. And do it from a heart that shows gratitude for even the smallest treasures.

    Thanks for your offering, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, my! That’s a very convicting story, Linda. May we all take notice. To be a gracious receiver takes more humility than to be the giver…. A big lesson here, my friend. Thanks for sharing this experience.

  4. Joe Pote

    I have come to learn what a blessing it is to be appreciated…to know God has used me to bless someone else. The flip side of that truth is realizing how important it is to give others the same gift…of truly appreciating their generosity without feeling the need to repay. To just enjoy each other’s love and grace…

    Not always easy…but always worthwhile…

    Thank you, Lisa, for sharing that concept with such a poignant story from your own life!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “To just enjoy each other’s love and grace…”

      Yes, Joe. Beautiful way to put it. We all need to understand that in receiving well, we are also giving. Thanks for making that clearer.

  5. Beth

    My husband has taught me the gift of “receiving graciously.” I am a giver and love the blessing it brings me to bless others, but hated to receive. That is, until I saw my husband receiving with glee and then I saw how much it blessed others to give to him. I, then, realized I was cheating others of the gift of giving. I was hogging that blessing all to myself when I wouldn’t receive from others. It is a tricky balance, Lisa, where obligation often rears its ugly head. But I’d prefer to give and to receive freely, than to step out of that give and take altogether. Great thoughts, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I have a friend who is like your husband, Beth–she is a great receiver. It makes it fun to give to her. It’s a lesson I want to continue learning more myself–how to make giving fun for others who want to give to me. “Don’t block the blessing” is how a friend put it to me.

  6. TC Avey

    Giving and receiving grace can be tough…I think it’s why so many Christian’s feel the need to “Earn” their salvation. I know I’m guilty of thinking I need to make God “proud” of me. How silly. He’s already a proud papa.
    I must learn from the grace He so freely gives if I’m to be able to give and receive it from others.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “He’s already a proud papa.” Exactly. A great truth that we need to remember–it helps us jump off that merry-go-round of thinking we have to pay him back for what he’s given us (as if!). Yes, freely receive, freely give. Over and over. Thanks, TC!

  7. Jerralea

    Oh, it’s much harder to accept grace, I think. But I’ve had to learn to do it. Because I need to let other people be blessed when they share grace with me.

    I love your words: “God doesn’t work on a merit system. His preferred method is grace.” So true!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right, Jerralea. We do need to let other people be blessed also. It feels good to be the giver; so we should allow others to feel good by being their receiver. It sounds so easy to do, but it can be so difficult.

  8. Sharon

    You’ve spoken wise thoughts here, Lisa. Sometimes giving is easier than receiving. But there is a blessing we give to someone else when we receive their gifts, no matter if they’re meager or not. I have had some talks with my mom recently, as she is growing more and more dependent on my siblings and I. I have talked to her about all that she’s done for us, and all that she’s given. I have told her how it isn’t a burden to reciprocate – that indeed, it brings us great joy to be able to give to her. And we are so blessed by her gratitude and appreciation.

    As you’ve said, it’s all about grace. For after all, we can never give back to the Lord what we “owe” Him for His gift of salvation. But I’m going to spend eternity telling Him, “Thank You.”


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think many of us dread if we have to become totally dependent on others giving to us. One of my greatest fears is getting Alzheimer’s and being in a position that I have to be helped all the time. It’s sweet that you remind your mom that she spent years giving to you and your siblings. We just have to trust that God knows what he’s doing with this gift-giving and receiving thing.

      An eternity to say “thank you” is a beautiful expression of worship. Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

  9. Anita Ojeda

    I’d say it’s harder to receive. I like giving (I think it’s one of my love languages). But I’m learning that there’s grace in receiving, too. I need to let my pride go (it’s not really worth hanging on to) and remember that I steal the blessing from someone who is trying to give when I have hang-ups with receiving.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Letting our pride go – you’ve hit the nail on the head, Anita. We need to all realize that while giving is good (and God-like!), so is receiving. It’s humbling and blesses others in a different kind of way.

      After all, it’s all about the people anyway, not the actual gift. I read this today and loved it:

      “The value of the gift is not, mostly, in itself, but in the givers. Their gift reminds me of the deeper truth of our relationship.”

  10. Nicki Schroeder

    I have been on a giving kick lately Lisa, and it brings me joy to know that I’m blessing someone with kindness, even if they don’t utter any words of thanks. But I also catch myself in that awful cycle of repayment sometimes and this is such a beautiful reminder for this heart to just remember that sometimes it’s ok to just say “thanks” and carry on. Great post!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s a great kick to be on, Nicki. I’m sure lots of people are being blessed as a result of your giving. (And it is easier to give when it’s appreciated, even though I’d rather not be that way.) A simple thanks can go a long way.

  11. bluecottonmemory

    It’s difficult to let others give – but when I realized that if I don’t let others give, I am taking something away from them, denying them a blessing – I am learning how to receive so much more gracefully. So glad you enjoyed that chocolate – every bit of it!

  12. melody

    That’s powerful. Honestly, I’m such a mess I feel like I struggle with both receiving and extending grace. I am all about extending grace to people of lowly circumstances…..but to give grace to someone “who knows better” that just did something really stupid, that’s where I have a really hard time. But the “know betters” and the “don’t know betters” all need grace…and I fall into both categories myself. Receiving grace is hard for me as well. Today someone offered something really nice and underserving – a total stranger. I turned her down at first but then felt the resistance in myself and gave in and was appreciative. I’m such a recovering legalist it’s not even funny.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re not alone in this, Melody:

      “…but to give grace to someone “who knows better” that just did something really stupid, that’s where I have a really hard time.”

      It’s much easier to help those who are appreciative and are trying, than those who seem to take advantage. But nevertheless, you’re right that all need grace, maybe even especially the second group.
      And maybe we recovering legalists need to especially be the ones giving it to them? I’m definitely in that camp….

      Good for you in giving in to receive the nice thing! We’re all growing. 🙂

  13. Beth

    I love the way you bring this back to grace, Lisa. Just as we can be saddened when others don’t feel they can just accept our gifts, how much more must our Jesus be pained when we try to pay back his grace. Thank you for linking this at Small Wonders.

  14. ~ linda

    Lisa, you are so right. I have such a hard time accepting a gift yet I am more than willing to give one. The other person just needs a way to say thank you and have it accepted gracefully. I am learning. I am learning and getting better at this.
    God’s grace is the answer.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I am learning, too, Linda. It’s a hard lesson for many of us, especially when we’ve been trained to give, give, give. But someone has to be on the other side of that giving–and sometimes it needs to be us! 🙂

  15. Loren Pinilis

    I think it is often as much of a kindness to enjoy someone’s gift thankfully as it is to give something yourself. In a way, you’re giving them the opportunity to bless you. Ironically, it’s actually selfish to deny them the opportunity to do that – even if your intention is that you want to be selfless.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is ironic, but true: we can give by receiving. I need reminding of this truth more often. Just another backwards-concept of the Kingdom. I’m glad God is much wiser than I am.

  16. Jen Ferguson

    I have spent most of my life keeping scales, making sure I have repaid every gift – small and large – in some sort of way. When I couldn’t do it tangibly, I tried to make up for it in service. But at some point, I started to lose track – of what I had been given and what I had been given. And you know what? Praise God. Because I have so much more energy for what really matters. And I can breathe deep of His grace and trust my sisters to do the same.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Losing track–who knew that would be a gift to us? That’s beautiful, Jen. Yes, praise God. He returns our energies when we let go of our grip. Breathing deep with you, sister.

  17. Ashley Davis

    We just talked about this Sunday night in our small group. Most of us agreed that it is harder to extend grace to people, but we hope people extend grace to us. As someone started earlier in the comments, it’s much easier for me to give grace to “those who deserve it”. I’m just thankful that God’s grace is for everyone, and it truly amazes me how He loves us and doesn’t tolerate us; He loves us!

    As far as grace when it comes to giving gifts, I’ve had to learn to let people do things for me when they want to. It was hard at first because I love buying gifts for people ( not because I want to out give them, but I truly know that it will be a gift that they enjoy, can use, etc.).
    My friend always says, “Don’t steal my blessing”. I’m having to learn this lesson again as I prepare to move in with friends from church. These friends are letting me stay for free, and they want me to use the money I am saving for my mission trip. Talk about not being able to repay someone! It has been a humbling experience to say the least. Sometimes all you can do is say “thank you!”.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Such lovely comments, Ashley. I’m so thankful too that God’s grace isn’t just for those who “deserve” it–it would rule out all of us!

      How awesome that you have friends contributing to your mission trip by letting you live with them now! My friend tells me something similar, “Don’t block the blessing.” You are allowing your friends to receive a great blessing by having you with them plus knowing they are helping you save money for your mission. A win-win!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *