What if I Can’t See a Way to Use My Gifts?
When I dump out the 500 pieces of a new puzzle, the colors and shapes all jumble together. All the pieces are there but the picture those pieces will form is still fragmented. Gradually, as I work, the nuances of color, perspective, and texture become more distinct. Chaos begins to take shape.
Sometimes I expend a lot of energy trying to make all the pieces of my life’s puzzle fit together perfectly. I cram a piece that is too big in where it does not belong (and then later find myself undoing that whole section in order to start over). I despair as I look at the large gaps. I focus on that one, weird, misshapen piece that does not seem to fit anywhere.
Our personal vocations are like a puzzle that is gradually taking shape: God gifts us all the pieces that we need, but the image they will eventually make is incomplete. As we sift through the pieces, the colors become more distinct and the image slowly emerges. God reveals our passions and interests to us, while also placing before us opportunities to use those gifts. But what do we do when it seems like all we hold in our hands are those misshapen pieces with nowhere obvious to go?
This frustrating predicament has happened to me several times in my own life and the lives of those that are closest to me. What can we do in these moments?
The Missing Pieces
As a mother, wife, member of my extended family, and friend, I will never be enough. I see people juggling crazy schedules of activities and commitments and I think “what am I doing wrong?” I must be lacking in some key way because to add more or be more feels impossible. I am not just talking about social media FOMO, but comparing myself to the other people I see regularly who seem to get out of the house with their kids with much greater ease than I do. These other people seem to juggle being the den mother, room mother, and team mother while still finding time to get their hair cut on a regular basis. So what is wrong with me? What piece of the puzzle am I missing that would make me more successful, more helpful to others, and less stressed?
When the activity gets rained out or the meeting is canceled, I sometimes let out a huge sigh of relief. Why couldn’t I just say no in the first place? Because I want to give my kids every opportunity, I don’t want to let others down, and I am choosing things we will genuinely enjoy and grow from… but sometimes there are just too many of them…
I took great comfort in Vinita Hampton Wright’s post in January about my personal call to make Christ at the Center of My Life. In this article, she reminded me that while God calls me to tend to my responsibilities in life (my work, my family, those around me), to make them the CENTER of my life will leave me constantly feeling dissatisfied and inadequate. The pressure I place on myself overshadows the call to love that first comes from the way that God loves me. Perhaps the “missing pieces” are reminders that I cannot do everything on my own and that God is not asking that of me.
The Broken Pieces
In our family we call it a “Corgi tax”… somehow at least one puzzle piece always goes missing or gets chewed up by the family dog, thus never quite fitting correctly into its place. Have you ever felt a deep call to a job or ministry opportunity, poured yourself completely into that call, and then had it fall completely apart? Sometimes it’s “burnout” from taking on too much, but other times a piece of our call gets torn or broken by hypocrisy or personnel conflict, or discordant visions. These challenges can trigger self-doubt but also God-doubt. Did God really call me to this place or this mission? Did I misinterpret the call? Our perspective is too clouded by hurt to see our own giftedness. Could God really still use the mangled pieces of my dreams to respond to a call?
The Extra Pieces
Every so often when you are putting together a puzzle that is not fresh out of the shrinkwrap, you find that a piece of the dinosaur puzzle has somehow made its way into the princess puzzle box. What if God has gifted me a calling that has nowhere to go in the Church and in the world?
In his book The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser says:
“Our deep longings are never really satisfied. What this means, among other things, is that we are not restful creatures who sometimes get restless, fulfilled people who sometimes are dissatisfied, serene people who sometimes experience disquiet. Rather, we are restless people who occasionally find rest, dissatisfied people who occasionally find fulfillment, and disquieted people who occasionally find serenity.”
I have come to believe that God plants these seeds of vocation in people, even if they will never come to fruition. They are holy longings that urge us forward to be a church that welcomes more people into the family. A calling with no obvious way to express it encourages creative response and ingenuity. But sometimes, the faithfulness to the call comes in the pain of waiting for its fulfillment. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur piece that found its way into the princess puzzle and just refuses to leave.
Above all, I have found that responding to the call involves trusting in God’s slowly unfolding mystery. Do I truly believe that whatever image God is making with me will be beautiful?
Becky Eldredge’s article on “Knowing God’s Call”.
Vinita Hampton Wright’s blog post on “Putting your Gifts in Action”.
Vinita Hampton Wright’s blog, that launched our blog series this year, on “Christ’s Call to be the Center of My Life”
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash