Rising Leader Series: Week 45 - Gifts
Updated: Nov 4
When I was seven years old, I dreamed of becoming a professional football player. Quarterback sounded good at the time. But I had a small body with small hands, and wasn’t particularly fast or agile or accurate. That dream died young. A few years later I found a tennis game, and dreamed of the professional circuit. But the folly of that dream was soon taught too, as I began to experience early exits from High School tennis tournaments.
Other gifts proved more promising. I did pretty well in school. I liked to read and write. I liked to act, to play guitar, and to write songs. In the college years, summer jobs helped me discover a knack for selling. After college, three friends of mine and I started a company that achieved some success. These early experiences were gift threads that I drew upon to weave the tapestry of my career and life.
What are your gifts? Perhaps your parents glimpsed them in you when you were young. Some children show an early fascination with how trucks and machines and gadgets work. Others love to paint and draw, exhibiting unique talent in color combinations and forms. Others love to read, then learn to write at a young age– soon surprising parents with poignant poems. Athletic talent emerges early. So too the fascination with doctors and all things medical. One child sings beautifully; another dances with poise and grace. One is a social butterfly; another is quiet and contemplative.
Do our gifts come from nature or nurture? Nature wins, I think– at least in the beginning. We are each born unique, endowed by God with certain tendencies and competencies and quirks. Of course, our gifts must be developed. A gifted child with a paint brush will not become a successful artist unless she commits herself to years of dedicated training and effort. So it is with engineers, authors, doctors, singers, dancers, politicians and monks. Our gifts may arrive at birth, but what we do with them is up to us. And to develop them takes motivation.
Research shows that there are two types of motivation– extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation prods us from fear of punishment, or expectation of reward. Some people are stuck in side fear-based incentive systems-- living anxious, reactive lives. Others spend the better part of their lives chasing extrinsic rewards– the “hedonic treadmill”. It’s sad because it’s a race that can never be won– there’s always someone who has more– and it leaves the soul tired and empty. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, arises when what we do advances a purpose we care about, or feels like play, or promotes personal growth. Intrinsic motivation, once activated, tends to sustain– through thick and thin.
God gave us our gifts. And I believe it’s important for us to ask ourselves: has the time come to give them back? There can be no higher purpose than serving God. The gifts God gave us are blessings to Him if– and only if– we put them to use for Him. When we use our gifts for God, we may experience “flow”: that lost-in-the-moment, feels-like-play experience that comes when we do something we love. And of course, the more we exercise our “gift muscles”, the more gifted we become. We grow. Purpose, play, personal growth– all come about when we give our gifts back to God. And progress begets confidence, which fuels our commitment and devotion– a virtuous cycle of goodness.
True confidence in our gifts is not of the ego. It is that salutary mixture of faith and hope that guides us forward. When we are confident, we trust in our God-given gifts, and that God will guide us in their use. Our minds clear as we focus on the task at hand. We keep a step or two ahead, anticipating all that emerges. No obstacle is insurmountable. We carry an inner certainty that with enough time and effort, we will overcome every challenge.
But in our consciousness of our gifts and mastery of our work, it is all too easy to make it about us– not about God. Pride: it’s such an ever-present danger. Through prayer, through our soul-connection with God, we must work every day to bring all of our successes back to Him. In our gift-giving we are simply a contribution, one small part of something much bigger. All around us are those who seek to do the same. Together, we are the body of Christ– God’s response to the world’s hunger. For Him and only Him. St. Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.”-- 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11
The world cries out in need. Who will hear and respond? God has no hands and feet but ours. Will you use your gifts for just yourself, or will you return them to Him? It’s your call. Your choice.
Next week, let’s acknowledge (and even celebrate) our gaps.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”-- 1 Corinthians 12: 27
Yours together in service to Him,
P.S.: When it comes to giving our gifts back to God, we might draw inspiration from the saints. This poem tells the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was appointed archbishop
To toe the line in poor San Salvador
Everyone thought he’d keep low and kiss up
To the cloistered, wealthy benefactors
But in the city streets the poor were starving
The scent of revolution singed the air
In prayer before a Cross-pierced Jesus carving
Romero heard a call to greater care
He went out, preached in soaring calls for justice
Despite the rising anger of the rich
Until at Mass when raising up the chalice
Assassin’s bullet mixed Christ’s blood with his
O God, what gift he laid at Your table!
Would I be so ready, willing, able?
Previous Weeks' Letters: