Sharper Focus – Gifts, talents and second grade math

by Amanda Reardon, Captain

I am presently sitting in the kitchen, guiding my son David through his homework. (Just guiding him. No need to call Ms. Gies to report me.) He is convinced that second grade math is beyond my ken. He’s seven, so of course he ought to know more than I do.

Nine-year-old Wes is at the table, as well. He’s learned this lesson already. “David, listen to her,” he suggests. “She knows.” Ah, the arrogance of a second grader, and the wisdom of a fourth grader! What a difference two years’ life experience can make. Of course, they’ll be teenagers some day, and I’ll go back to knowing nothing. But for now, I’ve got at least Wes on my side.

One of the benefits of adulthood is learning to live with the fact that you don’t know everything, and feeling free to appreciate the expertise of others. Over time we learn that we simply want to come to understand what is true and right and best. It doesn’t matter if the best idea originated with me, it just matters that I can recognize the best idea when it comes my way. When we can be comfortable with that, we demonstrate maturity.

Understanding our own limitations is also a sign of spiritual maturity. If we consider it our collective goal to do Kingdom business here on earth, it doesn’t matter who is most clever or talented or even who is right. What matters is that when my idea is not the cleverest, my talent is not suited to the task, or I put forth a notion that is incorrect, I have the good sense to defer. The body of Christ is designed so that each person has a role (or two or three) to play. And if we are smart––better said, if we are obedient––we let people do what God has gifted them to do.

But you know, I don’t think it is only a matter of recognizing each other’s spiritual gifts. I’m convinced that God would also have us recognize skill––developed, trained, cultivated skill. Imagine, for example, that your corps needs a new corps treasurer. Will you simply look for a person whose spiritual gifting includes the gift of “helps?” No. You want someone who can add and subtract. (I recommend my seven-year-old. He seems to have that sewn up.) In our division, several corps are working on developing after-school programs. Enter Tom––a man who just began attending The Salvation Army a few months ago. He is a retired university professor who is a specialist in education for at-risk children and children with learning disabilities. Not only that, but he was the founder of a large, successful tutoring program that is highly respected within the Seattle community. He has a strong desire to see our tutoring ventures succeed, and the servant’s heart to help us. An expert; a God-send.

It is important to recognize what our fellow Christians can offer and give them the room to be of use. I have seen people leave Army churches because they did not have the opportunity to use the gifts and skills with which God had blessed them. Often it was because another person had trouble relinquishing enough authority or enough limelight to let others try their wings. I’ve also seen officers wring their hands in hurt and frustration because their congregants wanted them to have the identical skill and gift set that their previous officer had. The most tender-hearted pastor in the world might have little opportunity to counsel his people if his people are only interested in his preaching skills.

As we grow more and more comfortable with who we are, we find genuine joy in seeing others be the best version of themselves. We are indeed co-laborers, not competitors. We give others opportunity to blossom when we realize that we have been formed just as God wanted us to be, and our brothers and sisters just the way he wanted them to be.

Thanksgiving may have come and gone, but as I think about these things, I’m still grateful. I’m grateful that I don’t have to know how to do everything. I don’t have to be smart in every field. I’m glad that I can spend time developing the skills that are natural to me and honing my spiritual gifts, instead of chasing after a vision of myself that will never come true.

And, by the way, I’m grateful that I can still get through any second grade math assignment Ms. Gies can throw at me––uh, I mean, at David.

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