In February, Captain Hana Seddon wrote an article for the War Cry entitled ‘From the Flax Roots Up’, in which she discussed the Māori concept of manaakitanga (hospitality). Captain Seddon described manaakitanga as involving “support and protection as well as…respect, generosity and care for others”, and she taught that “displaying manaakitanga elevates the status of all, building unity through humility and the act of giving.”
Personally, I find the act of giving a lot easier than being humble enough to let others give to me, and yet, in order for unity to be built in the community around me, I need to learn how to do both.
For those of you who are ‘The Big Bang Theory’ fans (the TV show, not that actual theory), you are probably familiar with Sheldon Cooper’s thoughts on gift giving. For those of you who are not a fan of the show, Sheldon believes that “the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity” and that when you give someone a gift, what you really give them in an obligation to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. Because of this, Sheldon found receiving gifts to be a very stressful occasion and so went out of his way to avoid being given presents.
I can definitely relate to finding it stressful to be on the receiving end of other people’s giving. However, unlike Sheldon, it’s not physical gifts that I find hard receiving (I love receiving presents!), it’s accepting other people’s help that I find stressful. I’m fine with helping other people out. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I enjoy it, but I’m really bad at asking other people to help me out.
This wasn’t such a problem for me last year when I was living in Palmerston North since I was surrounded by my family, and I find it much less awkward to ask my family for help. But this year I am in Queenstown (which is a long way from Palmerston North), and I have found myself needing quite a bit of help with various things.
I’m five foot tall (and not very sporty), so when I got a new bed, I needed help carrying it up the stairs to my apartment.
I’m also terrible with cars, so when my car failed its warrant because the horn wasn’t working, I had to choose between spending a lot of money at a mechanics or accepting a friend’s offer for her husband to take a look at it.
And, most recently, I am on day four of being stuck in bed with a cold. Which last year, would have meant my sister making me hot lemon drinks and my mum dropping off the extra soup, tissues, and fruit juice that I need. But now it leaves me with the decision of whether I suffer without the things I need or whether I somehow find the courage to ask someone for help.
As I have been reflecting on this, God reminded me of one of the songs in our songbook - song 1005. It’s an odd sort of song to sing in church because it doesn’t actually aim its lyrics towards God. Instead, the words of the song speak to the fellow Christians standing beside us in our corps meeting. The first verse goes like this:
Brother, sister, let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too
The song is a meaningful one to me because, as I’ve been saying, I’m not very good at having grace enough to let other people be my servant. There’s an awkwardness that comes from other people helping you out; a feeling of vulnerability, as you admit a weakness that you need help with, and a feeling of indebtedness when the person helps you out.
But this week, God has been reminding me that when he called us to be His family, he was asking us to be vulnerable with each other. He was asking us to behave towards one another with a spirit of manaakitanga, not only in regards to the act of giving but also the humility of letting other people give to us. He was asking us to let one another into our lives and to have the grace to let our fellow believers serve us.
Romans 12:13 says, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” This is a difficult verse to obey when all of the Lord’s people are pretending that they are completely fine and have no needs.
Being sick sucks, but it has been an opportunity for me to be vulnerable with my corps family. In the four days that I’ve been sick, I’ve had four lovely women from my corps offer to bring me anything I need, and despite my fear of the awkwardness, the vulnerability and the indebtedness, I’ve somehow found the courage to say ‘yes’ to two of them.
It was scary and a bit awkward, but I truly believe that my time of vulnerability has been an opportunity for me to be part of fostering a spirit of manaakitanga in my corps family. And it’s been good for me too. Not only did I get groceries I needed and the warm feeling that comes from knowing that someone cares, but it has been an opportunity for me to see some of God’s family growing closer together in unity.
Sheldon Cooper is wrong. Giving is not about creating obligation, it’s about being family. And I might be hours away from my biological family, but I take comfort from knowing that I am surrounded by my spiritual family given to me by God.
Captain Hana Seddon’s article can be found here: From the Flax Roots Up