Reflections on ‘Talent’ and Identity

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-18, and I’m grateful that in the High Calling’s daily reflections, Michelle Derusha wrestled with it too and helped me to understand it better.

Michelle writes: The truth is, God gives each one of us gifts, though some might not be as obvious as others. Ask yourself this: what fuels my passion? What is it that I love to do and do well? The answer to that question may very well point to your God-given gifts. The key, of course, is to recognize your gifts and use them for the good of others. Don’t play it safe, Jesus tells us in this parable. Don’t hide your gifts; don’t bury them, like the fearful third servant did, where they can’t impact anyone else. And don’t squander them either, but instead, invest them in growing the kingdom of God.

Today my friend Annie (who published a book, y’all), blogged about what aspiring writers should do if they want to write. Basically, she said start writing, start collecting stories and writing out the ones that are burning inside you, even if they only exist in a folder on your desktop for the time being. She also said don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get involved in a community.

I think that’s partly why I choose to keep up with this blog. I recognize that I have a passion for writing (and photography), for creative expression, for synthesizing and story-telling. So I’m trying not to hide my gifts.

I don’t really know what to do right now with writing. I turned down a creative writing graduate program because it just didn’t feel right and I didn’t think it was what I really wanted. To be honest, it kind of brought about a little identity crisis. All this time I’d been saying I was a writer. I’d been many other things before, a singer, an actor, a photographer, a film-maker, but I had kind of drifted away from those things, but at least I was a writer. But if I didn’t do this program, if I didn’t want to do this program, then what was I? I didn’t want to just give up again and never amount to anything. What am I if I’m not a writer?

I don’t feel like that so much anymore, and I try all the time to remind myself that my identity is not in what I do but in Who created me. However, even as I read Donald Miller’s books this week where he expands upon that very truth, that our identity is found in Christ, I find insecurity gnawing at me, the insecurity that says I could be like Donald Miller if I just tried. I’m not really serious about this stuff if I’m not trying.

Writers say this to each other a lot. It’s a thing big-time writers say when they give advice to small-time writers. It’s what they talk about in creative writing classes. It’s what creative writing graduate program advisors say to you in the middle of your interview. They don’t say it exactly like this, but this is what I hear: You’re not a real writer if you don’t write every day.

I get that. Seriously, I do. You can’t expect to get better at something if you don’t practice. But sometimes I worry if I’ve twisted this, and this parable of the talents, far beyond anything Jesus ever wanted to say to me.  I’ve measured myself up against the definition of a writer and found myself seriously lacking, and so I’ve felt insecure and upset with myself. This was my identity: writer. It’s the only skill I thought I had, and so I made it my identity, but if I wasn’t feeding into it, if I wasn’t living up to the definition, then I was nothing.

That makes no sense in conjunction with the Parable of the Talents, though. In the parable, the Master gives talents to His servants, and they are to make something of it, for the glory of the Master. Their identity is not in the talents themselves, but in the Master who gives them, the Master who loves His servants and trusts them with these gifts, trusts them to do something amazing.

I think Michelle’s post is key here, because her point is about how we should share the talents with others. This is what brings the Master glory, when we share His investment. Jesus begins this parable with one of His “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” statements, so I think this is about a lot more than some money or some gifts. It’s got to be about proclaiming His gospel and His glory, right?

Our identity is not in our gifts, it is in the One who gives them, and by living out our gifts, we bring Him glory. I confess, I have been (and still am) so afraid of not growing in the gifts God gave me, of not using them — or at the very least, of using them for my own selfish glory and not His. So I’m writing this post, and I’m journaling to Him, and I’ve started keeping a collection of spiritual essays inspired by my readings of Blue Like Jazz. I ordered a macro lens attachment with a gift card today, and I’m not going to let myself feel bad about the purchase, because photography is one of the ways I worship my King. It is a gift He gave me to give back to Him. So is writing, so is the freedom to blog.

That is why I’m a writer. I don’t want to write for any other reason. And I don’t want it to ever again be a measure for my identity. Thankfully, that is safe in Christ, and if I lay these gifts before Him, eagerly desiring to bring Him glory, He won’t let them go to waste. Please don’t let me waste them, Lord. I am not a writer, I am a child of God.

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