We all have them. Unique, distinctive traits that give us our individuality and separate us from one another. If we stop to think about the sheer enormity of the task God has in creating each of us in a truly unique way, you can’t help but be astounded by the variety of gifts He bestows on us mere mortals. A God of unlimited creative ability, He also seems to have quite a sense of creative humor. When you ask someone, “What’s your gift?”, you are likely to get a wide range of responses, usually beginning with some unique, physical attribute. And indeed, a number of people have some very interesting physical gifts. For example, our youngest daughter has a unique “eye-wiggling” gift. We discovered it during one of her multiple hospital stays when she was suffering from complications of a difficult kidney condition. She was only a little over four years old at the time and she was fighting a severe attack of boredom. When the nurse came in to do her vital signs, our daughter started making funny faces and then it happened – this wide-eyed stare, followed by her eyes wiggling back and forth rapidly. Equally surprising was her ability to recreate it. The next thing we knew everybody and anybody on that hospital floor had to “come see this girl’s eyes!” Over the years, it has been a real attention grabber and her kidney doctor always reminds her that if she ever is bothered by a boy she doesn’t like, she can just resort to the startling “eye-wiggle.”
There are many other interesting physical gifts, some more common than others. I have a daughter who can raise one eyebrow in a perfectly intimidating way (and quiet a whole room of seventh grade students at the same time) and a daughter who can lick her elbow. My husband’s grandfather could wiggle his ears and my grandfather could shake the windows of whatever room he was in every time he sneezed. I know someone who can lick his nose with his tongue, someone who can pop her shoulder out of its socket (creating a freakish divot in her shoulder) and someone who can whistle a song through his nose. Not only do these gifts define part of our individuality, they can become, as it were, our “trademark.” People remember fondly the quirky things about us or their loved ones, and by doing so, honor the Creator who found delight (or humor) in the those gifts He selectively imparted to His beloved creatures.
These physical gifts, while a source of wonder or laughter, are not our best gifts however. Our physical gifts are gifts that our bodies will one day cease to be able to perform. Our best gifts are those that are hidden to the naked eye, perhaps even hidden from ourselves. Our best gifts are those that spring from our spiritual nature, patterned after God’s own divine nature, which also dwelt within the human form of His Divine Son. Our best gifts, like our spiritual nature, will outlast the temporal, living on as witness to those fortunate enough to be drawn to their beauty.
Some might contest that seeking and acknowledging any such gifts within ourselves is a form of pride and magnanimity. We only need look to St. Therese for guidance, for she boldly claimed, “I would so much like to love [God}… to love Him more than He has ever been loved.”[i] Presumptuous or just a statement based on trust that He would provide the gift that her heart desired above all things? An all-knowing, benevolent God, He places within us the desire for that which He already has chosen to give as gift both to ourselves and for the world. It is then up to us to see, acknowledge, and use our gift(s) in a manner which brings out the best in ourselves and those around us. What kept St. Therese’s gift of loving God from becoming a source of pride was her profound humility. “She saw her humility, that is, her awareness of her littleness, as her greatest treasure. Why? Because she knew it was her littleness that attracted God’s Merciful Love.”[ii] And that is precisely what our best gifts are to do – when we acknowledge and use those gifts as God intends, they not only draw God’s love to us, but that love becomes visible and can captivate those who are blessed by our gifts. With love God bestows those gifts, with love we boldly and humbly embrace those gifts, and with love we return those gifts to God by blessing others.
Do you know what your gift is? If not, how can you determine what your gift might be? Sometimes it becomes apparent in the work or ministry that you do. It might be revealed to you in prayer, or through someone who sees and points out that gift to you. About a year ago, I began writing a spiritual memoir of sorts and I wrote the following words as I wrote the dedication page:
“My mission in life is simply this,
that all who come in contact with me
go away having seen a part of You, Jesus,
even if they do not realize it
until You come for them.”
I had written this “mission statement” after going through a retreat program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius understood the importance of clarity in one’s life and created a “First Principle and Foundation”, which contained the essence of the spirituality behind the Ignatian Order. I felt it would perhaps keep me focused if I had a similar statement that summed up how I wanted to live my life, especially considering how easy it is for me to get sidetracked with the distractions of everyday life. It wasn’t until I was discussing this topic of “gifts” with a friend and reflecting on what gift I might have, that it struck me. My mission had become my gift and my gift was my mission. It was a deeply profound moment as I very humbly realized what God had done. He had taken the greatest desire of my heart and without my noticing, He had filled what was lacking in me with His grace, love, and mercy to the point that it overflowed and others were being drawn to His very same love and mercy. “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”[iii] With humble, bold confidence I continue to offer that prayer to Him, knowing full well He is the One who can and will accomplish all. In the words of St. Therese, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires.”[iv]
Our task then, your task, is to prayerfully seek out and acknowledge with humble gratitude the gift or gifts that He has lovingly entrusted to you. If you don’t think you have any such gift, ask those close to you and then ponder what they reveal. If there is something that has been placed on your heart that you desire and feel God is calling you to ask for it…. ask in trust! Whether it is a physical gift, a spiritual gift, or both, with the bold confidence of St. Therese, dare to step out in faith. Let Him use you and your gifts – dare to be part of what was both one of Jesus’s greatest desires and one of His greatest prayers on our behalf, “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am, they also may be with me, …I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” [v] Our gifts can and will transform us into living images of the Divine One who has creatively fashioned us with those gifts. What is your gift? Just exactly what the world needs and that only you in your uniqueness can give.
Don’t just stare at that beautifully wrapped box. Unwrap your gift – for the beauty inside is far more beautiful than the wrapping it is in.