For 2013 — and Beyond

Last week I suggested a New Year’s resolution: Use the new year to figure out what gifts God wants to give to the world through you. Let me tell you a story.

The Saturday after Sandy hit, our parish became a collection point for clothing, food, blankets, and all sorts of other donated goods. By that afternoon the lobby was awash in bulging plastic bags filled with who-knows-what, and my central concern was to keep the doors unblocked lest we create a hazard for people coming to Mass. And I had no idea how to make what was being donated useful to people who might need any of it.

A parishioner — at the church on other business — happened to pass through and saw the piles. Some other people were standing around, or helping to bring in still more bags of donations, and she gently started opening stuff up and sorting it. Other people began to help. She made suggestions that made sense for organizing things, and other people began to work that way. Then I was called outside to help unload a truck full of prepared meals, and I lost track of what was going on in the lobby…

When I came back inside, the piles of bags had been transformed. There were tables set up with neatly-stacked shirts, jeans, dress pants, children’s clothes, blankets, and the rest — each with a computer-printed sign showing what was in the stack. That parishioner had a spiritual gift for bringing order out of what looked to me like chaos. And our little part of the world was better for it — people were helped — because she knew her talent and used it. You can be like that, even if arranging things isn’t your particular gift (as it’s not mine). The church — and the world — needs everybody’s gifts. Remember Saint Paul’s image of the body and how the different organs work together so the body can function…

Our parish is weaker than God wants it to be because — through no fault of our own — many of us were never taught to identify the particular gifts God wants to give to the world through us. We may never have been convinced that we had any worthwhile gifts at all, and so we “hid our light under a bushel basket” and concentrated on avoiding sin. I’m all for avoiding sin, but the world is never going to be transformed by God’s grace if that’s all that Catholics do. Jesus didn’t only say, “avoid sin”: He said, “Go to the world…” And He told us to go to the world bringing gifts: “The gift you have received, give…” How can we do that if we don’t know what gifts we’ve been given?

The best way to discover your gifts is to watch yourself in action. What sorts of activities come naturally to you? What are you consistently good at? What do you wish you could do more of? What do you pick up quickly, learn to do effortlessly? Observe this, and you’ll discover some things about the gifts God is giving you.

Another way to learn about your gifts is through a tool known as the Strengths Finder (or its version for young teens, the Strengths Explorer). This is based on a multi-year study (now involving over three million interviews) conducted by the research organization Gallup. These tools use a brief online interview to identify our talents. We’re integrating the Strengths Explorer into preparation for Confirmation, as an additional tool to help candidates to identify and appreciate their gifts. And we’re going to be offering some group-learning sessions for adults several times a year using the Strengths Finder.

Make a resolution: Use 2013 to learn about your gifts, so that you can appreciate more deeply God’s goodness to you and give the gift God wants to give to the world through you. Until next week, peace.