June 1, 2012

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Use your gifts, talents to serve others and bring glory to God

Patti LambLast month, I helped my 4-year-old daughter, Margaret, clean her bedroom. We found one of her favorite books that she loved as a baby. We didn’t get much cleaning done, but we read that book four times in a row.

Titled That’s Not My Train, the book is basically about recognizing objects by appearance and texture. Each page shows a different train, and explains why that particular one is “not my train.” The final page reads: “That’s my train—its engine is so glossy.”

Quite frankly, I never really understood why my daughter was fascinated with this book as a baby and why she was delighted upon rediscovering it. But as we started reading it for the fourth time, it struck me that it has a meaningful message for any reader, no matter what age.

The message is simple, but often life’s simplest messages are the ones about which we need to be reminded. The book’s lesson—sometimes it’s easiest to recognize things by what they are not.

Days later, I found myself quoting the book to a friend when she asked me to lead a meeting at school. “That’s not my train,” I said. She didn’t understand, and I had to reword my response.

“That’s not my gift,” I told her, explaining that I am not comfortable speaking in front of a large audience, especially when I am not well-versed on the topic. I offered to help with behind-the-scenes preparations for the gathering, but I was not comfortable leading it.

It worked out. I baked the refreshments, set up the room and took notes at the meeting. The meeting planner found a dynamic speaker who had a gift for facilitating assemblies. Everyone employed their gifts to make the event fruitful.

If only we would all seek to recognize our gifts then use them to bring glory to God. Seeking our natural, God-given talents will sometimes entail disappointment, however, because there are times when life clearly illustrates those gifts we do not possess.

Those gifts we lack may become evident when we work hard at something and repeatedly come up short, yet others around us seem to sail right through the same waters.

While I may never excel at running marathons or keeping the cleanest house on the block, I must recognize that God has given me some gifts. I comfort myself with the words of St. Paul: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit” (1 Cor 12:4).

Temptation creeps in when I find myself surrounded by others who possess gifts that I find superior to my own. But I must be content with my own abilities—and let others use the gifts that God has generously bestowed on them without harboring resentment.

Once, when I confided to my aunt about how I was disappointed in myself for not being a certain way, she said, “But that’s not how God made you.” She encouraged me to spend less energy focusing on how I don’t measure up to those around me, and to direct my efforts at developing the gifts that God provided to me.

I’m beginning to understand why my daughter squeals at the last line of the train book. After repeatedly recognizing things—trains, in this instance—which are not yours, it is a celebration to finally find the one that is uniquely yours.

How the state of our world would change if we would simply recognize and employ our unique gifts and talents to serve others and reflect the beauty of God’s creation.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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