July-August 2008

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

Last month, we considered the effect of woundedness on our life choices. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to where true joy is to be found—in the deliberate application of our giftedness to the purpose to which our spiritual identify is ordained. Let’s take this one element at a time.

First, aren’t we guilty of vanity when we focus on our qualities or talents? For many people, particularly those in their forties or older, the virtue of humility is associated with putting ourselves down. In fact, that’s a dangerously inappropriate understanding of humility. The exercise of true humility does not require self-deprecation but enables us to honestly recognize who we are as finite humans. It places us in right relation with one another and with God. It allows us to see ourselves as God sees us. Consequently, humility permits us to know our spiritual identify as God created it, and to live accordingly.

So, in true humility—not false modesty—we can gain a better understanding of who we are. We can gauge not only our limitations but also appreciate the beauty that God has created in us. Not only has he created us “in his image” (Cf. Gen.1:26) but also he has bestowed upon each of us a particular set of capacities and abilities (latent or developed) to perform certain tasks. These are related to our mission, which some call vocation or purpose.

If we understand giftedness, therefore, not as anything that we can boast about but rather as a set of tools that we’ve been given to do a job, the merit for our talents belongs entirely to God. Therefore, it is not vanity to confess them. Indeed, to acknowledge them without fuss is simply to witness to God’s work in our life. Naming our gifts is to express gratitude for his largess and accept the mission to which they are intended. Truthfully, our hesitation in naming our gifts may have less to do with humility than with the obligation that they entail.

God is more anxious to bestow his blessings on us than we are to receive them.

– Augustine of Hippo

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Second, what do we mean by giftedness? Let’s begin by stating what it is not. It is not necessarily a skill: skills can be developed to mask woundedness. It is not necessarily a quality that is evident to others or even to us: God-given gifts may be undeveloped, for a host of reasons. It is not even necessarily what brings us pleasure: we examined in previous reflections the difference between pleasure and joy. In each case, I have carefully included the words “not necessarily.” Certainly, a particular skill may correspond to a God-given gift; a gift from God may be evident to others as well as to us; and the use of a gift can bring great pleasure.

Giftedness, as the word is used in relation to joy, is the set of tools that God has provided to live according to our spiritual identity in the achievement of our mission. As we have seen, part of that mission is to love, and it is Christ-centred love that gives us true joy. But it is the particular circumstance in which God calls us to love that enables us to distinguish between gifts and skills. In essence, gifts flow from our true identity. To be connected to our sacred gifts, therefore, we must live authentically. Again, self-knowledge is the key.

Third, how can we know what are genuine, God-given gifts? The answer has two parts: If these are already deployed, we know them by their fruits; if they are not, we can only surmise their existence indirectly.

For many years, I have provided spiritual direction and counsel to bereaved persons. As part of the process of recovery and growth, I occasionally take them through an exercise of identifying their gifts. This is a difficult process, in part because of their reluctance due to false notions of humility but mostly because they’ve never before explored the dynamics of their life. I begin by inviting them to list abilities from which they have derived pleasure or for which they have received complements. As we progress, however, some of these are eliminated for reasons noted earlier. What’s left is a pretty solid inventory that can be adjusted through ongoing self-discovery.

Latent gifts are more elusive, however. The more we assume false identities and roles, the more inaccessible are these gifts. Fortunately, partial evidence of their presence can often be found. The simplest way is to inventory peak moments in our lives, without regard for their apparent importance or perceived relevance to our existing roles. Such events may have included singing in a children’s choir, managing a community project; taking an art course.

The list of possibilities is endless. It may have been set aside because it conflicted with other values, was deemed to be useless or dismissed as frivolous. What will be notable is not only the feeling that we had while undertaking the task but the satisfaction that came after. That consolation can remain dormant for years, even if it was repressed by criticism or ridicule. Recovering repressed or suppressed gifts will be critical for living fully and responding joyfully to God’s call.

There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good. To one is given from the Spirit the gift of utterance expressing wisdom; to another the gift of utterance expressing knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; to another, faith, from the same Spirit; and to another, the gifts of healing, through this one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the power of distinguishing spirits; to one, the gift of different tongues and to another, the interpretation of tongues. But at work in all these is one and the same Spirit, distributing them at will to each individual.

– 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

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May God, who has already blessed you with wonderful gifts, reveal to you their beauty and purpose. May they bring you true joy.

Fraternally,

richard

crib and cross Franciscan Ministries