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Not Gifted, Just Faithful

January 31, 2012

“I can do all things through Him [God] who gives me strength.”

(Philippians 4:13)

It is hard to argue with that, isn’t? Until God gave me children, I didn’t even realize I’d spent my life parsing that verse.

I grew up with what a sociologist would call a strong work ethic. Both of my parents worked: my dad in traditional jobs outside the home plus investment in the community as a volunteer fire fighter. My mom, on top of managing our family’s home-front,  did day care at our house, then went to school for her nursing degree.

Besides two strong examples of competent, self-educated, multi-tasking parents, God gave me the ability to do whatever I put my mind to doing. I didn’t appreciate that as a gift until I had children who have more neurological challenges than I was given.

Of course I could not do every thing by dint of diligent application. In elementary school I figured out that I’d never be very good with balls. No matter how much I might practice, with no depth perception my brain could not judge the distance between the bat and the ball. I never chalked that up to a lack of ability on God’s part. I just figured ball handling wasn’t a strength he’d given me.

By the time I was a grown-up, I’d figured out a personal formula for any new undertaking: Pray about it, study it, then do it. Without realizing, I rolled “minimally, competent; ideally, gifted” into my decision-making. That just seemed realistic. After all, no one would hire me to be an auto mechanic or to pilot an airplane (jobs in which I had zero experience and no talent). But they might hire me to be an administrator or admit me to their MFA program.

Parenting and adoption were no different. The adoption home study process strengthened my sense of self-competence, reinforcing my impression that having thoroughly prayed about and studied our options, then successfully defended those choices to a social worker, we were competent for adoptive special needs parenting.

But I had a huge blind spot. I had not yet encountered anything for which prayer and study left me feeling so unprepared. I had wrongly conflated my ability to do something with God’s strength imparted to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize my shortcomings as a mother; I was painfully aware of them. It wasn’t that I didn’t pray for the strength to do the “all things” given to me; I did.

But God was creating a major shift in how I viewed myself by giving me a job I was not highly competent to do: raising children whose special needs my husband and I could not meet with our own resources. God knew I needed to learn that “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” embraces strength to do things I am not gifted at but am unmistakably called to do anyway.

I’ve been blessed recently to know an older Christian woman who models this beautifully. The first time I saw her living out a New Testament command, I confess I thought, “Is there not someone who could do this who is gifted at it?”

See, in a church as big as ours, there are so many roles to fill in the ‘body’ that almost everyone finds a niche they are gifted in. This is not a criticism. I’m just observing that we don’t have lots of opportunity to observe people who are not gifted but are just faithful. 

When I looked up the biblical commands this lovely woman is following I realized there was only one qualifier attached  and that was not giftedness; she met the given criterion. For her, the command was a given: Do it. In living it out she is simply being faithful.

That is the paradigm shift God has worked in my heart and my mind. Whether I feel gifted or even minimally competent to meet my kids’ needs doesn’t matter. Unmistakably, I am called to be their mother –not the ideal woman I imagine who has some experience if not actual talent for meeting their unusual needs.

What does it mean to be a mom who can finally admit that she is not omni-competent, but –far more importantly in God’s eyes — aspires to just be faithful? If I was gifted, I might be able to tell you. But I’m not. So my new mantra is simple: proceed in faith. Faith in my calling to be my children’s mom and faith in God’s giftedness to supplying every strength I lack.

One of the ways He’s done that is by teaching me to reach out and surround my kids with people who are equipped in areas I am not, and with people who support me on my learning curve. Two friends, Dorothy and Heather, have recently written on this subject and I commend their posts to you.

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