There is one Gospel that I dread every time it comes around in the liturgical cycle — Matthew’s parable of the 10 talents.
When it comes to this Gospel, my faith is still like that of a 6 or 10 year old. Why? Because I have always understood this Gospel quite literally. As a result, I feel the weight of judgment on my shoulders, unsure whether or not I am using my God-given talents as God expects of me. I wonder if I am the third servant who does nothing at all.
But here’s the rub.
That 10-year-old in me tends to see my talents, especially my leadership talents, as finite or limited. It’s like my golf game. I truly believe that regardless of whatever effort or change in equipment or practice, I am only ever going to be able to hit a golf ball 75 yards and no more. So why bother, right?
One of the most poignant memories I have from my teaching days was sitting in a meeting with a freshman, her mother, the principal, and two other teachers, talking about the student’s lack of educational progress. The two teachers spoke directly to the mom, and talked about her in the third person. As I listened, I watched this shy, thirteen-year-old shrink into herself as these teachers went through a litany of bad grades, failed projects, and discouraging analysis about her.
So, when it was my turn, I looked right at her, and shared the challenges that she faced in my class, but also how clear it was to me that she was capable of doing the work, and that I was willing to work with her to help achieve the passing grades that I knew she could manage.
The whole experience was sort of a revelation.
Everyone in her life had convinced her that what she could do and be was very limited — and they expected no more than that from her. They didn’t even expect her to try.
From the conversation, it was clear that the focus was on her performance. Underneath was an assumption that her abilities in the classroom were limited or finite.
However, when our eye is on learning, we tend to see the abilities of ourselves and others as malleable, grow-able, not finite.
As a leader, what limits do you put on your talents? Which boundaries might be more flexible than you believe them to be?
Then with those you minister with and serve, ask the same questions. How do your answers change the ways in which you nurture talent and leadership in others?