In my parents’ guest bathroom hangs a sign that reads: What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God. This sign about God’s gifts and how we should use them has hung there for years.
When my questioning faith journey came to the place where I walked away from the God of the Bible, I wondered if I also walked away from the idea of having a purpose – a unique gifting for a unique reason. I mean, Rick Warren taught us all that we were created by God for a purpose and our job is to figure out that purpose and accomplish it. As the sign says, this is how we give back to God: we become what He envisioned.
(We’ll ignore the next idea that comes: that when your purpose here is finished, He “calls you home.” Under that idea, why would anyone really want to accomplish their purpose and leave behind everyone they love who may or may not make it to Heaven?)
All of this becomes even more of a mindwhack when I factor in that my love languages are (1) Acts of Service and (2) Gifts.
“What we become is our gift to God.” My act of service creates my gift to God. !!
My Purpose: Identifying and Using God’s Gifts
An evangelical Christian’s purpose is rooted in identifying your spiritual gifts and then figuring out how God wants you to use those to further His kingdom on earth, right?
My “purpose” has always been to use writing and stories to spur people toward good works, healthy behaviors, and life-affirming ideas. That’s why God put me on the earth! I spoke about this at writers conferences, trade shows, luncheons, dinners…pretty much anywhere people gave me a microphone. I urged people to determine their own purpose, to mine their giftings for how to accomplish that purpose, and get to work.
That is, until I started questioning whether God put me on the earth or if, instead, I’m here because my dad thinks my mom is hot and did something about it.
(He still does and, yes, it’s even more gross to consider now that they’re in their 60s so … moving on …)
Unraveling the existence of my talents from the spiritual responsibility of using them feels impossibly exhausting. I don’t know how. I’ve never had to think about it. I’m a writer, speaker, producer, and promoter. All my life, I’ve put those skills to use because they “further the kingdom” and are “who I’m called to be.”
Old Teaching About God’s Gifts
I distinctly remember a sermon my youth group listened to wherein the pastor warned us that if we didn’t use the gifts God gave us to serve Him, then God would take those gifts away. My close friend Tracie – future college roommate and bridesmaid – had a voice that kicked Sandi Patty’s to the curb. But then Tracie moved in with her boyfriend and started smoking and the rest of us, sermon ringing in our ears, nodded our heads at how now her voice would go because she was using it to sing in karaoke bars instead of bringing glory and honor to God on Sunday morning. (Let’s just ignore for a moment how incredibly judgmental that is and how much I owe Tracie an enormous apology.)
The fact that several years into her “wicked ways” she sang “The Lord’s Prayer” at my wedding better than any soloist I’ve heard before or since didn’t assuage my fear. Surely God was just being patient with Tracie, letting her keep her voice despite her sinful ways. But one day, when she least expected it, He’d take her voice and then she’d know she should’ve been using that gift for Him. (Apology is coming, Tracie.)
I asked a teacher from my “college and career” group about this and he affirmed that, yes, Tracie was living in danger of angering God and losing her talent.
All of that has left me expecting, any day, to lose the ability to string words together because I’m pretty sure that one of the most certain ways of angering God is to use your talents to call into question His identity and worship worthiness.
Anytime I struggle to remember a specifically suitable word or try to make a few sing together in perfect harmony but end up just creating cacophony, I feel the spiritual worry seep in. Is this it? The moment I realize He’s taken away my talent?
Negative response to my writing feeds into this craziness. Recently, a publishing house declined to pick up a novel of mine that they’d been considering for several months. At the same time, visitor stats on this blog dipped. And then a writing client didn’t immediately pay for or praise a project I turned in.
This is it, I thought. See? Nobody wants your stuff because it’s no good. You can’t write anymore. You can’t put a project together. You’ve got nothing to work with. Time to practice, “Would you like fries with that?” (Also, learn how to work a fryer. You are an exceptionally bad cook. Are McDonald’s restaurants insured against cook error? Check that before you apply. You do not want to be the woman that brings down the entire McDonald’s empire because you can’t properly create an American classic.)
But then a television project suddenly found traction. A magazine I write for online asked if I could also write for the print version (a promotion of sorts). Another magazine asked to interview me. A film project sparked a meeting with a funder.
So maybe I’ll get to stay in the creative life another day.
Last I checked, Tracie’s still singing.
And we graduated nearly over three decades ago.
Were you taught that God would take your gifts if you didn’t use them for His glory? Do you think that’s a real thing?
(P.S. Hey, Trace, I’M SORRY I THOUGHT THOSE THINGS!! Girls Night on me if you ever come down to Florida or I come up to Tennessee. We’ll find a karaoke bar…)