The Receiving End of Giving


All my life I was taught that it was more blessed to give than to receive. The message was so firmly ingrained into my thinking that in time I began to believe it was not blessed to receive, that there was something wrong about being the receiver. I had forgotten or not clearly understood the teaching of King Benjamin that we are all beggars, having received everything from the Lord. (See Mosiah 4:19.)

My parents had taught me by precept and example the work ethic, the concept that a person must be worthy of his hire and earn his own living. And these were worthwhile lessons, not to be scoffed at. I also learned to gladly give my offerings to the poor, to willingly work at the Church farm and on similar projects that gave me an opportunity to be blessed as a giver.

I was grateful for the lessons my parents taught me, and as I tried to put those lessons into practice, I felt proud to be in a position to give.

But the poor I was supposed to be helping were a faceless, nameless group of people. And I had a vague suspicion that they had somehow brought their condition upon themselves, that they had been improvident or lacking in ambition. Surely, I thought, the Lord would not let that happen to me! I was one of the faithful. I had ambition, resourcefulness, a will to do.

These were my convictions until I sent two sons on missions. As I sent them out, I did so with much faith, thinking “the Lord will provide.”

He did. But not in the way I had imagined. It never occurred to me that the system under which I had been working all my life—but always on the giving end—would be the mechanism by which the Lord would garner the funds necessary to meet my greatly increased financial need.

My wages as a school teacher are not sufficient to provide many of the extras in life. I do not own a boat, a motor home, a set of golf clubs; I’ve never felt the need for them. But when my two sons came of age near the same time, I was sure we would have the necessary extra funds, with the Lord’s help. I even had a notion of how I would earn them.

During the last thirty years I have worked off and on as a freelance writer, selling an occasional story, a once-in-a-while poem. These sales certainly didn’t increase my earnings by any significant amount. But now I said to myself, “Yes. The Lord will help me write things that will sell. And in that way I will support my two missionaries.”

But that’s not the way it turned out. I experienced one of the bitterest—and sweetest—pills I have ever had to swallow.

I have changed the names of the contributors—not because they don’t deserve to be recognized, but because I want to save them any possible embarrassment. They gave as the Lord commanded, quietly, so that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

Even before our first son, Paul, left for Texas, Brother Jones approached us. “Brother Maughan,” he said, “I don’t have any sons of missionary age. It would make me feel good if I could participate in the support of a missionary. Could you find it in your heart to share your son for the next two years?”

Put that way, how could I refuse? From the first month on, Brother and Sister Jones quietly contributed $25 toward each monthly check that went out.

At the beginning, when the expenses were the greatest, grandma made a substantial contribution. She repeated this periodically during the two and one-half years that we had missionaries out. Paul took grandfather’s scriptures and overcoat with him to the mission field. Four months later when David left for Wisconsin, he went with other gifts from grandma’s house.

From time to time a check would come from an aged aunt. And a sister-in-law sent $10 a month to each of the two missionaries during most of their service.

Still, when the first Christmas came, we were short of money. We said, “That’s part of the Lord’s plan for us. We can go one Christmas without presents.” Then came a knock on the door. It was the ward financial clerk. Some anonymous contributor had given $200 and stipulated it was to go to the Maughan boys.

On two different occasions I found envelopes in my mailbox at work. Inside were $20 bills with a note saying, “For your missionaries.” The name of the giver was not included.

One Sunday after church we were approached by Brother and Sister Hansen. “How are things going?” Brother Hansen asked.

“Oh, great,” I responded.

“I mean financially. And be honest.”

I told him that Becky had recently enrolled in college and there were months when we were a little short. But we were managing.

Dear Brother Hansen. He had had a problem in his life and had been excommunicated from the Church. But this “court of love” did not destroy his faith. Instead, it strengthened his resolve to live an exemplary life, and he was well on his way back into the Church.

“Sister Hansen and I have discussed your boys,” he said. “Our sons are still too young to serve. And we would like to give something toward the support of the Maughan boys.”

Each of these offers of assistance came in a way which was calculated to ease embarrassment on our part. We of course accepted this last offer, thinking that Brother and Sister Hansen would give perhaps $10.

When $50 came we were pleasantly surprised. When it was repeated the next month, and the next, and the next, we were flabbergasted.

So it went. Whenever the need seemed the greatest, the money was there. We did not live sumptuously. Neither did we go without, because the contributions were sufficient to supplement what I was able to send to the boys out of my own earnings. But ultimately the Lord had one final test in store for us.

Missionaries know that things happen. Unexpected expenses come up. Both our sons were trying to live within their budgets—$200 per month to David, $170 per month to Paul. For a time Paul had gotten along on $160, but that made him skimp a bit too much. Then David’s bicycle was stolen. There were unexpectedly high phone and utility bills.

Ultimately there came a day, near the end of his mission, when Paul was $150 short. He wrote to us a very apologetic letter explaining the difficulty. We wrote back that although things were tight at home (we had had some unexpected automobile repairs), and I had had to borrow money to get Becky enrolled for her next quarter of college, we would somehow come up with the money.

Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Paul consulted with his mission president and was counseled to write his bishop.

After Paul wrote Bishop Henderson, he told us what he had done. We were stunned.

A thousand objections arose in our minds. “That isn’t the way we do things. If the Lord loves us, he will help us find another way.” I decided to talk to the bishop.

This was on Thursday. I should have realized that the bishop was not a man to let grass grow under his feet either. By Sunday, the day I was going to talk with Bishop Henderson, the plans had already progressed so far that it was too late for objections.

My first suspicion that something was in the works came during our high priests’ planning meeting early Sunday morning. Brother Carver, our high priests group leader, said that a missionary from the ward was in urgent need of $150 and that the high priests had been asked to help.

I don’t think he knew who the missionary was. But I knew. As group secretary, I was to be placed in the unique position of collecting money for my own son. For a fleeting moment I considered refusing the offer of help. I could still go to the bishop and tell him we would find another way. But something kept me from doing that.

After priesthood meeting, several of the brethren came to me with five, ten, and twenty dollar bills. Their faces were radiant as they handed me the money. One of them commented as I wrote his name down, “That’s not necessary.” But it was necessary—for me.

As each of them came privately to me with his contribution, I felt I could look into his heart and feel what he was feeling. There was no anger. No resentment. Only joy in being able to give. It did not matter to them who the missionary was. They did not blame him for being short of funds. Those defensive thoughts were only in my own mind. They began to diminish in the light of the pure love of my fellow quorum members.

Bishop Henderson’s father, our oldest member, made a special trip to my home to give his offering.

“And how are your missionaries?” he asked as he handed me the money.

“Wonderful,” I answered with a lump in my throat.

Then late in the afternoon Brother Alexander came to my door. I knew something of his situation. He was having a struggle supporting his own missionary son. He looked me in the eye as he handed me a twenty dollar bill. Understanding passed between us. I knew in that moment that he knew. He may have been the only one of all the contributors who realized who the money was for.

While his hand still rested in mine he said, “Others have helped me when I needed it. We could not have kept our son out without the help.”

He knew what I was going through.

Now $150 is not much. But at that time our need could not have been greater if it had been a hundred times more. We were impotent in the face of the problem which was solved so easily by the priesthood quorum, according to the Lord’s plan.

Our sons have now returned to us. They have grown in ways that are not easily defined. I stand in awe of their new-found strengths. I, too, have been changed by the experience.

I have a new appreciation for the widows and the fatherless in the ward. I know that it is more difficult to be a gracious receiver than a generous giver. But the blessings which accrue to both are not limited to temporal ones.

Walter L. Maughan, a teacher of multiply handicapped children and father of four, plus a Navajo Indian placement daughter, lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah.