Finding the gifts God gave us

“God sees things in you that you don’t see in yourself.”

Many of us read these words of Matthew Kelly in the book “Rediscover Jesus” (2015). He used them as a preface to discussing Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Kelly’s point is that it is important to have a healthy self-image and awareness in order to truly be capable of loving others as Jesus demands.

Many of us are of a generation that was taught that humility coincided with self-denial and to avoid investigating or discussing our natural God-given talents and spiritual gifts. We did not want to be guilty of bragging or the sin of pride. And, truly, how could we know for sure?

Today, we know that we are only able to understand how uniquely those around us have been created if we acknowledge and celebrate our own gifts. How do we announce the sacredness of life if we do not proclaim the unique talents and gifts each person brings to the kingdom? What do we lose when we do not fully understand the true loss of each person’s contribution if life itself is at risk?

We are fortunate to live in a time when social science offers a variety of ways to become more self-aware about who we are in terms of our talents — with us from birth — and our charisms which are gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. Assessments and surveys are available for both. Many in our diocese have attended such workshops to enhance their own ministries and encounter God.

Recently, I had the surprise and privilege of participating in my second mission trip to the Philippines. The spirituality and practice of stewardship is finding momentum in this developing country, and it is an honor to watch it unfold.

One priority on this return trip was to do a leadership in-service with 149 seminarians and their professors at the Regional Major Seminary in Davao. The tool we used to help unearth their God-given talents was the Gallup Clifton StrengthsFinder. This online assessment reveal participants’ top five Signature Themes. There are 34 Signature Themes. It is not a snapshot of what a person does well as much as it is a picture of who they are and how uniquely they have been created.

Over seven million people worldwide, in both secular and ministerial worlds, have taken StrengthsFinder. One of the God moments for me was realizing that there is a one in 275,000 chance that anyone will have the same top five themes as me and a one in 33,000,000 chance that we will have the same top five in the same order.

The response of the seminarians was remarkable.  Many expressed how they had truly encountered the love of God. As we went through specific characteristics of their themes, they were very animated about how they saw these talents in their personal histories and the potential for leveraging them as parish priests. The energy in the room was amazing.

In the past, we have used StrengthsFinder to help people select an appropriate ministry so they could share their gifts in service. This continues to be effective. Yet today, identifying and owning our talents and gifts has a larger purpose.

As we are asked to become a more evangelizing Church, each of us has to reflect on our own attitudes and practices. It is our responsibility to become more self-aware, to name our gifts and become as Matthew Kelly would say “the best version of ourselves.” The Father works through our joy, healthy self-image and unique gifts to bring others to himself. Each of us evangelizes in our own way.

Also, if we want to help bring others to Jesus, we need to be able to see everyone who is placed in our path as God sees them: incredibly loved and blessed with abilities different from our own. Seeing others and relating to them in this light offers hospitality. Helping them name and discover their gifts will take them to the next level. Let’s begin with ourselves.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects Director for the diocesan Department of Stewardship and Pastoral Services.

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