Talent Is Never Enough

At the moment our entire Creative team is reading the above-named book by John Maxwell.  The chapter that’s resonated most strongly with me has been “Relationships Influence Your Talent”.  It struck me as interesting that out of the whole book full of good stuff on perseverance, development, character, etc etc, this was the chapter that meant most to me.  Guess I must be a people person.  Who’d’ve thunk.  🙂

P.S.  If Maxwell had been writing solely for a Christian audience, he might have included a chapter entitled “Anointing Supersedes Your Talent And Makes It Actually Achieve Something Lasting In The Spiritual Realm”.  It’s conspicuously absent.  But on with the show.

Philippians 2:1-7: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing …

Am I prepared to be nothing?   If it was good enough for the Son of God …  Suddenly it doesn’t seem such a big ask to be like-minded and unified.  To put others first.  Right now it’s easy for me to feel generous towards other singers, because I’m getting to sing myself.  But I wish I had been better able to maintain a spirit of generosity during the lean years.

Vain conceit? Selfish ambition?  Sound like the arts?  Note that Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t look to your own interests.”  He says, “Don’t look EXCLUSIVELY to your own interests.”  (It’s worth pointing out that when God said “Love your neighbour as yourself” He seems to take it for granted that we’re allowed to love ourselves.)  So we’re not saying, “You don’t matter, and everyone else does.”  We’re saying, “We all matter.  We’re all bits of Jesus’ replacement earthly body.”  (Cue Communion distribution!)

2 Corinthians 10:12: When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 

The best singer in the room is probably Ruth Donovan.  Yet never once – not once! – has Ruth ever given me the impression that I’m super-privileged to be permitted her friendship.  I am! – but she doesn’t see herself as “up here” and me “down there”.  She doesn’t carol out, “I’m the yaaaardstiiiick!”  Because she couldn’t care less about ranking.  Ranking is rank!  And when I’m with Tamar James – arguably one of the best vocalists I’ve ever met – she makes me feel like I can do anything.  When I’m with Tamar, I stop seeing my talent as shabby & “home-made” next to hers, and start thinking about all the people who love “handcrafted” things and how I might bless them.  I start to feel that my salt is just great alongside her pepper.  Basil.  Oregano.  Chives.  Parsley!  She makes me soar.  And truly – you don’t need me trying to be imitation Sarah – you already have one of those!  If the whole body were a hand ….

We’ve had the Word for two millenia, so it shouldn’t take High School Musical to tell us that “we’re all in this together”.  It shouldn’t take Glee to remind us to “keep holding on, ‘cos you know I’m here for you”.  It shouldn’t be up to Nikki Webster to teach us “you can always depend on me”.  We should be out front of that parade, not just singing about it butdemonstrating  it.  I don’t know about you, but I dream of our church being this lighthouse, this bastion of love and acceptance and practical help, where it doesn’t matter if your shoes aren’t from Melbourne or you’re not pretty enough and your heart’s too broken and you cry too much and you’re too outspoken.  And it’ll happen – when we look at one another and we see Jesus.  Got no trouble believing Jesus to be better than myself.

John 13:35 doesn’t say: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have a swisher album than the church down the road.”  Until our siblings are more important to us than our songs, we’re not there yet.  But we can get there!  I wanna make the world sayliterally – “OH. MY. GOD!!!!!  Have you seen the incredible  way those people look after each other? I wanna be part of THAT.  THAT’S a Jesus I could follow!”

Maxwell recounts the story of June Carter Cash – a woman so notable for her love, that her stepdaughter couldn’t praise her highly enough.  This segment misted me up severely:

She looked for the best in everyone; it was a way of life for her.  If you pointed out that a particular person was perhaps not totally deserving of her love, [snip] she would say, “Well, honey, we just have to lift him up.”

June was Johnny Cash’s “Samwise Gamgee”.  She was his armour-bearer, carrying him while he carried his burdens.  As a school chaplain, it resonates deeply with me.  As a musician, in a field that is so often fraught with ego and rivalry, it appeals to me.  As a believer, it represents to me the spirit of Jesus.  It begins with a servant heart, but it progresses through the heart of a friend until it reaches to where it’s the heart of a brother.

Maxwell quotes Benjamin Disraeli: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share with him your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

He goes on to say that we should focus on relationships that build us up.  But I add, we should also look to be the one that builds up.  If everyone’s reaching upwards … who’s reaching down?  However low you feel, someone will be lower – like the way that, when you run an amber traffic light at the last possible second, there’ll always be two more cars following you through!  You’re never the last word.

If my BFFs, Helen & Katrina, had looked at me in 2005 and seen only a tense, miserable, high-maintenance, mediocre control freak caterpillar with martyr tendencies – they would have missed out on being some of the key people who have helped me become the fabulous butterfly that I am, dahlings. Because now they see me as clever and resourceful and creative and empathetic and helpful and warm.  I’m a flake – but I’m sugar-coated!  (Crunchy Nut, perhaps? Never was a cornflake girl … ten points if you remember the singer’s name :))  If Col & Ruth had written me off for having spent four months crying my way through every West service at the back of the room – I might never have found my healing and moved on and started achieving again.

You don’t know the beauties or the stories hidden inside the people around you.  Nerds, for instance.  A nerd will always have something fascinating to tell you that you’ve never heard before!  I love nerds!  Maths teachers – I know a woman who writes the most incredible books about the universe, all based on maths.  People who have overcome mammoth obstacles.  People who juggle enormous lives.  Talk to the quiet person who sits on the periphery of your team – for all you know, they may be an award-winning engineer or a novelist or grow 52 varieties of daylilies in their back yard.  We might look generic – but we’re not.  The glory of God is in all of us.

Caveat: You’re not always in control of who you do and don’t have relationship with.  You can’t choose your family, and unless you’re willing to pack & move, you can’t choose your church family or your work boss or your class teacher.  But you can make the choice that the relationship that’s going to have the greatest influence on your life, is going to be your relationship with God … Who rates you – without blowing smoke you-know-where.  (A lesson I’m still learning, after all these years.)

I like how Maxwell says “when one of you is always getting the better in the relationship – changes must be made.”  He doesn’t say, “Dump them.”  You can’t always just dump the high-maintenance relationships in your life. We’ve all got an Uncle Arthur, haven’t we!

I will also say this: reaching out to give is agape love.  But reaching out to receive is humility, and both are needed.  Give of yourself, yes.  But don’t deny your teammates the privilege of giving of themselves by reserving your needs.  It might be considerate, in a way; but you can’t build real relationship without a certain willingness to be vulnerable.

Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 about stacking himself up against the spiritual celebrities of his day. Even as he does it, he says it’s silly.  But he closes with, “Big fat hairy deal.  It’s not about who’s better qualified or who’s got more battle scars or trophies or who commands the highest appearance fee.  Better to compete in the arena of humility than the arena of splash, if it must come to competing at all.  Sin? That’s not a sin. THIS is a sin!”

If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, every man is entitled to be valued by his best moments … then we should be in a hurry to gloss over one another’s occasional faux pas.  Love covers a multitude of sin.

Go on, love one another. Together, together, we’re stronger as one – are you with meeeeeee?

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