There is a song that I heard years and years ago (like 1st grade) when my parents did a "Walk to Emmaeus" evangelistic retreat. The song went, "God forgave my sins in Jesus' name, I've been born again in Jesus' name, and in Jesus' name I come to you to share his love as he told me to... Freely, freely you have received; freely, freely give."
I've been thinking a lot lately about this dynamic of having freely received and now freely giving. You see, I'm not naturally a very empathetic person, and so I do a fairly poor job of entering into others' joys and sorrows until I've experienced something similar myself.
Now, a couple of caveats before I continue. First, I know that Second Corinthians 1 teaches us that any sort of suffering enables us to minister to others who are suffering in any capacity. However, there is a lot to be said for similarities in that suffering -- to know that somebody really does know how you feel. For a divorcee, there is comfort from connecting with a fellow divorcee; the same is true for those who have lost children, spouses or some sort of physical capability.
Secondly, I've come to the believe that it is more difficult for we fallen human beings to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who mourn. Especially when those who rejoice are experiencing the joy of something that we would like to have. (Carolyn McCulley examines this dynamic in her excellent book on singleness, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye ... don't knock it; as far as I'm concerned, it's the single best book on the subject, and the only helpful of such books that I've ever encountered.) So, it is a particular grace (imo) when I am able to rejoice with those who rejoice, although it remains a sober privilege and responsibility to weep with those who mourn.
Now, back to the topic at hand: in the last few years, I have found welling up inside myself a desire to freely give because I have freely received.
Our church has a tradition of holding showers for every bride and for the first baby born while the family attends our church. That means I've been the blessed object of two showers (not to mention our wedding). Each time I've been blown away (to tears, even) by peoples' generosity. It's really humbling to open gift after gift and know that people have budgeted for this, that they are making sacrifices to bless us. Maybe you don't know this, but starting a new married life and having a baby can be expensive. When a number of individual families give modest (but still generous) gifts, the result is a lavishing of love on the recipient family.
Sometime in the middle of processing all this generosity from my wedding shower, I became a fan of other peoples' wedding showers. I like going to them and sharing in the bride's excitement. I like pitching in my modest sum to create an aggregate gift that genuinely blesses someone. It's exciting for me because I know what it's like to be on the other end.
And this past spring when my grandpa died, our family received so many kind gifts of food and cards. I saw my grandma carefully reading every card. We feasted on the meat and cheese platters for weeks. The ham. Those ridiculously rich shortbread-toffee cookies. How could I not jump on the opportunity to provide food for a grieving family this week?
"Freely you have received; now, freely give."
It's a bit harder to conceptualize because it's less tangible, but I think this is exactly how gifts from God work, like love, joy, peace, patience, etc. I give mercy because I have received mercy. We love because God first loved us. I want to grow in my excitement to give these gifts of mercy and love out of my excitement of having received them first.
The last line of that song's chorus is: "Go in my name and because you believe, others will know that I live."
Others will know that I live.