This morning I read an Erma Bombeck quote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say, ‘I used everything that you gave me.’”
Many years ago I read a book by James Mahoney called Journey Into Fullness. It was about living the Christian life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. His book, and a good bit of the New Testament, teaches that living the Christian life isn’t about what we have talents and abilities to accomplish on our own, but is about allowing God through his Holy Spirit to guide and empower us on our walk with Him. I loved the book and was totally ready to open myself to the filling of God’s Spirit and thus to see miraculous and positive things happen for the Kingdom of God. The difficulty for me (and likely most of us) is that the concept of a journey into fullness can become an exercise in what I GET out of living a Spirit-filled life.
Mahoney wrote a follow-up book called Journey Into Usefulness. That one has been more difficult for me because usefulness isn’t about me at all, but usefulness is rather in the estimation of the recipient. Something is only useful when it benefits someone else and that is the concept I’ve struggled with ever since I read the book – back in the 1970′s.
Part of the reason this has been such a struggle for me is that God gifted me with an operatic soprano voice, which is no longer useful within the church. Choir directors ask sopranos to sing like little boys whose voices haven’t yet changed or matured (my voice was mature and operatic by the time I first heard it when I was thirteen), and the majority of church music is written to exploit the low vocal register; if the higher notes are utilized at all, they are most frequently approached after singing pages of low, loud and forced pitches, all of which are not conducive to the vocal health and longevity of a singer.
I also have a facility for language, whether written, spoken or taught. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a part of a conservative religious denomination that prefers to hear from men. So once again, my gifts from God aren’t useful in the world in which I live.
With the difficulty of living in a world that does not really want who I was created by God to be, how may I journey into usefulness? It’s interesting that one of the difficulties in many, if not most, marriages is that each partner knows what he or she would like to receive from the other in order to feel loved and, accordingly, the gesture or action they desire to receive is the gift they lovingly offer to their marriage partner. Unfortunately, it is probable that each is hoping to receive something different than what is being offered and therefore the gift of each misses the mark.
With the marriage analogy, it is clear each marriage partner needs to be asking, watching for signs and listening deeply to clues to what the other needs in order to feel loved, and once they have an idea to actually give what is desired. That won’t always be easy and may occasionally even be impossible, but to be useful, our gift has to meet the needs of the recipient. Living usefully in the world will be the same as living in a marriage – ever looking for ways in which I can actually be useful – all the while being careful to not lose sight of myself and those qualities that make me be me. I read a book once with a great title, Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You? That’s the necessary balance – to remain yourself while finding ways to be useful in the world.
A couple of months ago, I went to a Beth Moore simulcast where she quoted a scripture [Psalm 37:3] that said, “Trust the Lord and do good.’ She clarified that by saying, “The scripture doesn’t say, ‘Trust the Lord and do right,’ but rather says, ‘Trust the Lord and do good.’” She continued by noting that most of us would much prefer to do right than to do good. There are rules and standards to rightness and once we have complied with what is right, we can feel justified in our behavior. But once again, like usefulness, good is based on achieving a beneficial result.
The call to usefulness and to do good is difficult. At some level, if that is my call and my goal, I become responsible for not only my actions, but for the outcome as well. It’s not enough to offer only what I want to give while disregarding the needs around me. It’s also true and difficult to realize that not all that is useful or beneficial will be pleasant for the recipient. Most of us long for the easy way out, someone to meet our needs or take responsibility for the consequences that result from our behavior. Doing the good thing or the useful thing may be doing the hard thing.
I expect to continue to struggle with this concept. I long to be useful as well as to honor the God who made me. How nice it would be if I could do both at once. Though I agree with Erma Bombeck and would love to slide into heaven completely used up and exhilarated by the journey, it may be that I have to stand before God at the end of my life and say, ‘I tried to use what you gave me but no one wanted it; however, since I loved You and I loved them, I found ways to use my mind and my senses to see, hear and feel the needs of others and then to meet them in whatever way was possible.’
I obviously still have a long way to go on this journey.