In my last post I talked about how easy it is to focus on what I am not good at. I start comparing my weaknesses to other people’s strengths then get all insecure and envious and feel less than.
But the reverse is true as well: I know what I am good at and sometimes, I flaunt it. I mean, I’m not obnoxious about it or anything. I’ve learned how to be subtle. But if there is an opportunity to bring attention to my strengths, I’m gonna’ take advantage. Why the heck not?
In junior high, I remember rollerblading through my neighborhood, listening to Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Paradise City on my Walkman, wearing a skimpy tank top (remember the ones that tied in the back with one of those twisty things?) and bright red wind shorts that barely covered my rear but did a great job of showing off my summer tan (if I ever wore sunscreen, it was no more than SPF 4). My hair was pulled back in a high pony (they’re back in!!!) with a matching red ribbon, polarized sunglasses (awww yeah) as I sang: Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. And in that moment: I was awesome. I looked awesome. I felt awesome. And then I was like, I hope some hot guy drives by in his pick-up truck and sees how awesome I look.
Fast forward a few years to high school. Powder Puff football game. Junior vs. senior girls. Our coaches were the JV and Varsity football players. I was a junior. And let’s just say…we dominated. My favorite memory of the game was when my coach called the double reverse. That was my play. The quarterback turned around and tossed it to my teammate who pretended to cradle the ball and run with it, but she actually tossed it back to me and I ran in the other direction. Oh, it was invigorating to see that wide open field in front of me. I ran like the dickens, fast as the wind (more like a steady breeze). The entire defense had shifted to the other side of the field, following my teammate with her pretend ball. By the time they figured it out, it was too late. I was way down the field, crossing into the end zone. And what did I do? An end zone dance, of course. One of those high-stepping kicks that I’d seen the pros do (before end zone dancing wasn’t allowed). Man, I felt awesome. I had just done something awesome. Everyone recognized it was awesome.
Can anyone else relate to this or am I a complete narcissist and need further counseling because of it?
Maybe you aren’t the center of attention type. But surely you know that feeling when your gifts are on display for others to see and you get recognized and praised for them…doesn’t it make you feel awesome? But unlike me, you probably shake off the compliment and deflect the praise and act really gracious and humble. I probably need to learn how to do that.
We all have gifts. We have all been made in the image of the Divine, each in unique and beautiful ways. And we are meant to use our gifts. We are meant to serve, encourage, inspire and bring joy, to make life more beautiful. It would be selfish to not use them.
So I’m not saying don’t use your gifts because that is being showy and boastful.
What I am saying is this: it’s easy to take credit for our gifts instead of giving credit to the One who gave them to us.
A few reflection questions:
* When you receive praise from others, are you thinking (like I am): yeah, I’m awesome?
* When you don’t receive praise from others, do you feel unworthy, unnoticed, unappreciated?
If so, you might have the same problem I do: I use my gifts to make myself feel good and look good, instead of using them to bless others and to point back to God.
Let me give some more examples. I have plenty. Red flag…she needs help.
When I was younger, God made me athletic and skinny. That’s not something I earned. I mean, sure, you have to continually use your gifts to stay good at them, but you know what I mean. There was just some natural ability built in there.
Fast forward 20 years. Now those gifts are gone. Way gone. I am no longer that vibrant, young, skinny, tan, cute athletic girl. As I approach 40, I have wrinkles and lines and freckles and sags where taut, tanned, and toned skin used to be. I am way out of shape.
That’s a humbling reality.
So you know how I compensate? I find another way to be awesome.
If I can’t look cute, I can act cute. In the past few years, I’ve been told by a surprising number of people that I am funny. I have never thought of myself as a funny person. Competitive, yes. Kind, yes. Deep, yes. But funny? No.
Here’s what I think makes me funny: I don’t have the filter that most people have, you know that thing that goes off in your mind and says you should not say that outloud. Somehow, God missed out on giving me that (maybe intentionally?). And so, I say whatever I’m thinking. And sometimes, it’s funny. Other times, it totally flops and it’s awkward (that usually happens when I’m trying to be funny). If we’re at a party and I start getting obnoxious about trying to be funny, my husband will nudge me and that’s my clue that I need to chill out.
But man, it sure is fun to make people laugh. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, in and of itself.
But here’s my problem: I use my funniness (is that a word?) to make me look awesome. Often, it’s at the expense of others, like when I make a teeny weeny little bit hurtful jab at someone I know really well. Or it’s just plain inappropriate. It’s rarely about encouraging others or pointing people to Jesus. Nope. It’s about me wanting to get a good laugh and, well, feeling awesome for being able to do so.
Here’s my point (finally! I know you’re thinking that!): As children of God, made in His image, I believe we are meant to use our gifts to point to Him by loving, serving and encouraging others. Not to make a name for ourselves.
And man, it’s so freakin’ hard to do that. It feels good to bask in the praise of others and be like, yep, see, I knew I was awesome and now everybody else knows it. Of course, there is a difference in graciously receiving a compliment and enjoying that affirmation of our gifting and letting it go to our head so that it swells up to the size of a balloon. But I find that difference very hard to recognize sometimes. Often times, the swelling happens later, after repeated compliments of my awesomeness.
When I look at the life of Jesus, someone who was actually truly awesome and had the legitimate right to proclaim His awesomeness, I am humbled. He never demanded that people believe Him. He just did life with them. He loved, served, healed, fed, taught and provided for others. In humility, not showiness. It was often in the simple interactions that He revealed His divinity. The woman at the well, as she was getting a drink of water. The disciples, as they were fishing. The robber, as he hung on the cross. And all this, coming from someone who was and is truly AWESOME.
As someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I am challenged to think carefully about how I use my gifts. Some questions I want to ask myself:
* Am I doing this to get attention or to serve?
* Would it be best to hang back in this moment and let someone else shine?
* Am I using my words to build others up or tear others down?
Finally, I think in heaven, all of this self-awesomeness is going to be flipped on its head. I think the Maker of Awesome is going to blow us away by showing us what awesome really is. I think we will still get to use our gifts – and even get to use them to the fullest capacity we could imagine. But it won’t be about taking all the credit for them, but using our gifts to give credit to the only truly Awesome. Man, I am ready for that day!
Lord, will you help us to use our gifts to point others to You and not to our ourselves? It’s so hard not to get caught up in the feel-good high of approval and recognition from others. Especially in our social media-driven culture. Will you show us how to do that well? Convict us when we start to wander (you I know I will!) Remind us to look to Jesus who suffered and died for our sake, to remove the curse of sin, the arrogance of thinking we’re so awesome we don’t even need You. Remind us that You are the maker and creator of the very concept of awesome and that Your love for us is so awesome that it changes us – it gives us new hearts and hope and purpose and forgiveness and peace and eternity with You. Amen.