Archive for August 23rd, 2007

Gifts from God

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Today’s scripture: Daniel 2:24-30 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Theresa Benson):

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing. – William Faulkner on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature

And I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. – Barack Obama, DNC 2003

I have to just take this moment in. I cannot believe this. Look what God can do. – Jennifer Hudson, Acceptance Speech, 2007 Oscars

For most of my life, I was the good student. I was the kid who set the curve in class, and the unintentional enemy of those who dreaded it. I found my days much better at home if I came home with an A. I remember my seventh grade teacher, at a loss for something to “give feedback” on during parent/teacher conferences one quarter, writing that I needed to work harder in spelling. (Never mind that I was my school’s delegate to the State of Iowa Scripps Spelling Bee, or that I’d not missed a word on a test yet that year.) I was that kid who didn’t know how she absorbed and retained knowledge, but was so desperate for the positive adult attention I’d get at school and the temporary reprieves from the craziness of my home life each time I brought home a good grade, that I’d do anything to get it, and lost myself for a while in the process.

When we’d read aloud in class, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d sit and silently roll my eyes when my peers would have to sound out words. I mean, I knew what pachyderm, epidermis, and pneumonia was when I was, like, FOUR — how long was this going to take? And when I’d overhear people relieved that they got a C on a pop quiz, I shuddered to think how horrible that must be for them down there, beneath me.

And yet, I thought my good grades and my voracious appetite for Cliff Claven-ish trivia were surely something that everyone liked and wanted. And of course every kid would want to be my friend and praise me the way my teachers and my Mom did. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that instead of being the hip social butterfly of my imagination, my peers considered me the dirt from which the wallflowers of my class grew.

So I did my best to ignore them, and worked harder for better grades, more praise from my teachers and my Mom. While it was a lonely existence, I had the illusion that I could regulate the amount of praise and good energy coming in — as long as I kept achieving, I had nothing to worry about.

How sad that it took me so long to see what Daniel, William Faulkner, Barack Obama, Jennifer Hudson, and many others had figured out.

These talents we’re given, no matter how weird, magical, creative or even seemingly small, are gifts from God — not to be hoarded, but to be shared with the world, with the understanding that the One who gave them, not us, is the one who should get the credit.

Think back to the comic book heroes you know. Every one of them learns early on that they have a choice — to use their power for the good of others, or for personal gain, which will ultimately lead to their ruin.

The irony of true humility is that it doesn’t make you a doormat, and sincere gratitude for the gifts and graces we’ve been given doesn’t invalidate the special nature of your abilities. Humility and gratitude aren’t hallmarks of a low self-esteem. As with many of God’s lessons, like “the last shall be first,” or “don’t assume the place of honor is for you when attending a party,” the opposite is entirely true.

If you still don’t believe me, consider the difference between Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dennis Rodman — or Audrey Hepburn and Paris Hilton.

Thought for the day: Humility and gratitude are signs of strength.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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