Givers and Takers

I’ve recently become rather compelled by the idea of “Givers” versus “Takers.” There are a lot of things in this world that either add something to the quality of your life, or they seem to drag you down and rob you of your joy.

I think the best way to understand this idea is to apply it in the context of the internal reserves of energy we have to face the challenges of each day.

Let’s take food as the first example. There are both Giver foods, and Taker foods.  Giver foods are healthy, complex foods with substance and nutrition. They are the things that ultimately provide us with more energy than it takes to digest them. Fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, proteins. Good stuff. Healthy stuff. They build you up and give you the strength and nutrition you need to heal your body, to move and think and act effectively.

Then there are the Taker foods; the things we consume that ultimately come with a cost. Alcohol is a big one. Beer, wine, and the harder stuff. They are depressants. They cost the body far more energy to metabolize than they provide back. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the temporary “euphoria” we get from drinking is somehow an enhancement, but in reality, all it’s doing is dulling your senses and adding toxicity to your body. Ask your body if a hangover is a net gain in energy, or do you feel worse than before you started partying? I think the answer should be pretty obvious.

Things with a lot of processed sugars, or starches. Soda and chips and just about anything on the candy aisle. Sure, they taste great, but they just give you a “buzz,” only to take it away again. Anything with more grams of sugar than protein on the list of ingredients is probably going to be a Taker food.

Caffeine is another Taker. True, it’s a stimulant, but it’s like throwing a handful of kindling on a fire versus a solid log. Sure, you get a quick, bright burn, but then it’s gone and you’re left with nothing but ash. If you don’t put something more solid in behind it, you’ll actually be worse off than when you started. Caffeine comes with a cost. If you’ve ever had the “jitters” after too much caffeine, it’s because you’ve added too much “kindling to the fire” and your body is struggling to handle it. It’s having to dig into its energy reserves to deal with the stimulant.  Aaaand then you deal with the “crash’ after you “come down” off the buzz, when you’ve used up all your fuel with the flash fire and don’t have anything left. Don’t kid yourself. Caffeine is a Taker.

More and more I’ve begun to take a hard look at what I eat and put into my body, asking myself, “Is this a Giver or a Taker when it comes to my health and energy levels?” Will I be better off after I eat it than I was before? That Krispy Kreme SOUNDS like a good idea now, but afterwards? Not so much.

I think the same thing can be said of people. There are people who are Givers, and people who are Takers. This means more than just the neighbor who borrowed your hedge trimmer and never returned it. Again, to me it all goes back to energy levels. There are certain people who seem to take up an inordinate amount of your energy whenever they are around. Whether they are pushy, negative, aloof, or even just overly “helpful” with lots of “suggestions” that sound suspiciously like criticisms, these people leave you feeling both physically and emotionally drained. They are the Takers. Energy vampires. I’m sure we all have a few names that pop to mind.

Then there are those people who seem to lighten and brighten your life just with their presence. They bring laughter, and joy, security, comfort, and genuine compassion. The people you just know would help you move your living room furniture around if you asked, or would come pick you up at two in the morning if your car broke down somewhere. These people are like taking a break from life for a while, like a glass of cool water on a hot day, or a warm blanket on a chilly night. They are the Givers. They add the energy of light and life and love and laughter to your system, leaving you feeling just that much more calm, reassured, and confident in yourself even after they have left. With any luck, I hope some names pop into mind here as well.

Lastly, I think you can make a compelling case that this same dynamic applies to emotions as well as food and people. There are Giver emotions and Taker emotions; certain feelings, thoughts, and experiences that come with a cost, that seem to leave us physically and emotionally drained. Energy vampires such as Frustration. Resentment. Bitterness. Jealously. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Stress. These emotions “cost” our mind and body the energy to metabolize or process them, just like with unhealthy foods, and unpleasant people. So, as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, I realize that I have to be especially vigilant and attentive as to which emotions I’m letting run wild through my heart. The more often I give myself over to the Taker emotions, the darker my outlook on life, the less energy I have, and the less resilient I am to the occasional shocks and stumbles that are a part of everyday life.

By the same token, the more I concentrate on keeping myself present with the Giver emotions, seeking out joy and warmth and laughter and love, and the more I make it a habit to practice compassion, forgiveness, understanding, empathy, kindness and love towards both myself and those around me, the more I will find that my energy “tank” stays a lot closer to full.  And with a full energy tank, I am better equipped to deal with the Takers whenever I have to.

Needless to say, a healthy lifestyle involves having a lot more Givers in your life than Takers. Seek out and chose to surround yourself as much as possible with the Givers, and avoid the Takers whenever you can. And…ask yourself, in just about every interaction with others, “Am I being a Giver or a Taker here?” This applies to our relationships as well, whether it’s with a friend, lover, business partner, spouse, or family member. It’s important to take the time and make the effort to take an honest look, and ask yourself, “Is this relationship a Giver or a Taker for me?” Am I putting in a lot more than I’m getting out? Does being around this person cost me more than it benefits me? Do they fill me up, or bring me down?

To me, this is just as much of a spiritual battle as it is a mental one. The Enemy would love for me to live my life just barely above the “E” on my gas tank. He wants me weak and frightened, lonely and confused…completely run down and thus, completely ineffective for the Kingdom work to which God has called me.

Sometimes that work is simply to show love and light and compassion to those around me, but if I’m living in a constant state of energy debt, I won’t have any left to give out to someone else.

The first and most important truth here, then, is that you have to give to yourself FIRST. If you burn yourself out, if you are constantly sitting at the bottom of the energy well, you won’t be of much use to anyone. So, though this seems counter to so much of what we hear (both in the Church and out), IT IS NOT SELFISHNESS TO ENSURE THAT YOU ARE BEING TAKEN CARE OF! Keep yourself healthy! Keep yourself happy! Keep yourself in shape – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then, and ONLY then can you realistically expect to shine the kind of the light into the world that it so desperately needs.

So, the challenge becomes one of ensuring that whatever choices I am making in my life, whether it’s what I eat, what I think, or with whom I interact, I will begin to make the choices that will bring me the most joy. I will surround myself with all the best Givers I can find, and I make it my daily mission to “top off the tank” so that whenever the need arises for ME to be the Giver, to spend some of that energy on those who God has put in my path, I will have more than enough to share.

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