(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
I’ve probably talked too much in past messages about my mom but I’m going to do so again. My mom and dad married in 1958 and so, as a woman, my mom assumed the role of a 50’s and 60’s wife and mother. Generally speaking, married women in those decades worked at home and devoted themselves to being housewives. Instead of disliking that role, my mom embraced it.
She was the consummate partner to my dad – working as a teacher to financially support him through medical school, quitting when he graduated, and then becoming an advocate and adornment for him at social functions. She was also a hard working domestic engineer – what I like to call women or men whose career is to manage a family and home. Mom raised three children, cooked meals, paid the bills, kept a clean and organized house and was the center of the family. For me, she was a lioness who protected and loved me even though she knew I was different from other boys.
My mom was also quietly outgoing. She smiled a lot and has always been unfailingly kind to friends, colleagues of my dad, and strangers she’d encounter. People just like her natural warmth. My sister has gently teased her about how she wears a smile as a default – not in a forced way – but genuinely.
Just before my youngest brother graduated from high school, mom must have realized she would soon not have much to do. And so she volunteered at the Hospice of Cincinnati residence facility in Blue Ash. She brought her abilities as a wife and mom to that role – showing kindness and a cheerful demeanor to the patients. She particularly enjoyed meal times when she would make the rounds to sit and talk with patients, mostly about them – their work, families, travels and memories.
Several years ago, when mom’s dementia was in its early stages, she retired from Hospice after twenty-five years. They have an award for volunteers who serve that amount of time, but they created a special one for mom – someone who’d served at least twenty-five hours a week for twenty-five years. She’d become an institution.
This past June, when my family moved mom into a dementia care home, we were concerned she would not like it. Instead, mom amazingly improved. She’s happy and no longer experiences the frustrations and delusions she had before. She’s once again in a place where she can help others and be a warm and cheerful presence. She calls the nurses and aides “dear”, and she rarely asks for their help. Even though she is frail and has difficulty walking, she tries to help them with their work – cleaning up after meals or assisting other patients.
In August, the residence Director moved a 93 year old woman into my mom’s room. And mom’s passion for being a friendly caregiver took over. Even though this woman’s cognition and mobility is no worse than mom’s, my mother feels it’s her role to watch over and protect Mary. My mom, despite her Alzheimer’s, is being true to what she’s always naturally been talented at doing – caring for, befriending and lifting up others.
I relate this as a way to introduce my message topic. This month, the theme for my three messages is to have an attitude of gratitude through sharing our treasure, our time and, for today, our talent. I believe that in order to be truly grateful, we will only appreciate the things we possess when we give them away. I’m inspired by my mom – and others like her – who have a generosity gene. They make me realize how far short I am in having a true attitude of gratitude.
I define talent as a natural ability or skill. Thomas Jefferson said that talent determines a natural aristocracy. We are not good because of class, race, wealth or ancestry. We are special because of the talents we were born already having. Indeed, any talents that we do have, they are gifts from nature – and not from anything we’ve done.
Pete Rose alluded to this fact when he noted that Willie Mays could throw better than him and Hank Aaron could hit more home runs. But he, he has enthusiasm and hustle. As Pete said, “Those are God-given talents too.”
Pete highlighted the intangible talents that people have. We tend to think of a talent as a skill we can see or hear. Talent, according to that notion, is an ability few others possess which brings success or wealth. By thinking that way, however, we demean the less noticed talents like Pete’s enthusiasm or my mom’s caring cheerfulness.
Indeed, my mom confided to me that compared to my father, she had little to offer the world. In her mind, his skill as a surgeon was far more important than her talent as a warm hearted person. She implored me and my siblings to channel our abilities into some respected and well-paying career.
And, I tried to follow her advice. I’ve always loved research, analysis and writing – and I have some ability in those areas. So I channeled my ambitions in college toward going to law school, believing that profession best expressed my talents. Instead of immediately going to law school after college, however, I spent a year working in a law firm. I quickly discovered that a legal career was not for me. And so I pursued what seemed the next most suitable and well paying profession for my abilities: business. And I spent the next 18 years working in medical and hospital business administration – but I was not fulfilled.
Mostly by chance, I later got involved in church work – for many years as an active volunteer and Board member, then as a seminary student and for twelve years, up to now, as a paid minister. The confluence of my talents and my passions finally aligned. I found a career in my middle years through which I could express my more tangible talents of writing and analysis with my more intangible abilities to relate with people. And I’ve never regretted it. I’m blessed to really enjoy my work.
Experts say that is the primary way to identify one’s talent – when you have a passion and love for doing something. Our talents are those abilities we have which we want to do. When expressing one’s talent, a person should feel fully alive, fulfilled and passionate about it. One should find some success at it. A talent is something good about you that others praise you for having.
One commentator compared a person expressing his or her talent to the natural actions of animals. Eagles typically fly between 75 and 125 miles a day. Elephants roam approximately 50 miles a day. Locked inside a cage, however, they cannot live according to their nature. Set free to act and be according to how they were made, that is when an eagle or elephant is most beautiful. And the same is true for us. Leading a daily life where we do not practice our innate talents, we might as well be in locked cage.
Sophia Loren, the famed actress who, at 82, is still noted for her youthful beauty, once said, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap into this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
She identified what gives us vitality and what will keep us young. By using whatever talents we have, we will thrive. And that touches on the spirituality of sharing talent. To do so is not just a path to gratitude. Sharing our unique talents is the way we define ourselves. It’s the way we fulfill our meaning and purpose for living. We were made to practice what is unique about us.
My mom was made to be a person who serves others with cheerfulness. And she’s naturally done that in every phase of her life. Pete Rose was made to be a baseball player with a hard charging personality. I was made with some abilities to minister. None of us, however, should be egotistical about our talents. They were given to us. We simply were and are willing to use them.
And that speaks to another spiritual dimension of sharing talent. Not only should we live out who and what we were made to be, we must use our abilities to pay forward the gifts nature provided us. We must serve others with our talent.
In one of his well known remarks, Jesus similarly encouraged his followers. People do not light a lamp and place it under a basket, he said. People take a lamp and place it on a stand so that it illuminates those around it. We must do the same with our talents. We must fulfill the cosmic purpose for our existence.
We can each shine our symbolic light up until the day we die. My mom is living out that ethic. We may not express our talents in the same way forever, but we can teach, encourage, empower, and model our talents to others all our lives. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
Psychologists encourage everyone to discover and practice their talents. To do that, we should ask close friends to identify our one or two special abilities. We should listen to what others praise about us. We should be willing to try new things. We should ponder what comes naturally to us and what we love to do. We should make a list of the ten tangible and intangible good qualities about us – for example, “I’m good at organizing things”, “I give good advice”, “I enjoy hosting and entertaining”, or “I like to help people.”
One should take classes in an area of interest and ability. One should volunteer in a role that uses a talent. Above all, one should disconnect from using a talent only in ways that bring money or attention. We must let go of doing what we think is best, and instead do that which gives us honest joy. When we do that, we will have tapped into our inner desire to serve, love and thrive..
If we fail to discover and express our individual talents, we have essentially stolen from the universe the gift of us. This gift of you is like a sacred trust. We’re endowed by nature with talent and with that comes the expectation we will use it. When we don’t, we waste the resources of food, air, water and shelter we consume to survive. An eagle that does not fly, an elephant that does not roam, a baseball player that does not play ball, a minister that does not serve or inspire, a doctor that does not compassionately heal, a caregiver that does not care – these are terrible, terrible tragedies.
Dear friends, my message series this month has asked us to adopt an attitude of gratitude by sharing ourselves and the things we value most – our treasure, time and talent. With all sincerity, I ask you to honestly think about ways your heart calls you to generously share these 3 things.
Too often we believe that when we share, we give something away. The irony is that when we give, we in fact receive. MJ Pierson recently reminded me that this congregation will only continue to grow in size of heart and numbers if it focuses not on its scarcity, but instead on its abundance. The same is true for our attitudes of gratitude. Our lives are not defined by hoarding. Our lives are given lasting meaning by what we give. Only by liberally sharing our treasure, time and talent will we understand how very blessed we are.
And I wish you each much peace and joy – and a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Introduce Brad Barron and third Sunday every month Social Justice Spark when we highlight a cause or organization we support. All cash offerings today will go to the organization and cause Brad will now speak about.