A God-Given Talent

J.L. Lyon wrote something very interesting on his blog about getting published:

When I stand before God’s throne he isn’t going to ask me how many books I’ve sold. He’s going to be concerned with whether or not I was a good steward of the talent he gave me.

I was very struck by this statement, especially in light of my recent thoughts on who I am/ who I’m destined to be (see my post on Mental vs. Physical Energy). I normally don’t get religious publicly (partly because I believe in avoiding public discussions of politics, religion, and sex–which makes many more enemies than it does friends–and partly because I’m something of a Deist and I struggle with the actual practice of religion), but you’ll have to excuse me for breaking my rules today.

Nathalia Clara Ruth Crane, born 1913, published her first novel at age 10. (I think I just got a little sick.)

What is a God-given talent? That term is normally applied to talents which are seemingly miraculous and come without much in the way of practice or cultivation: the blind man who can play any song on a piano by ear; the three year old who is a prodigy with a violin; the man from Africa who lives in a mud hut and doesn’t own a pair of shoes, but wins race after race at the Olympics.

In short, we think of a God-given talent as something spectacular and beyond the ordinary. But what if we stopped comparing our talent to everyone else and looked at only ourselves? What if we looked at what we do and find those things which we do best? Everyone has at least one thing they’re good at. It may be a “refined and cultured” talent, like playing a musical instrument, or it may be something more down to earth, like fixing a car, or being a housekeeper, or sorting peanuts at the peanut butter factory.

So often we look down on people who do so-called menial jobs. Housekeepers typically don’t cure cancer or bring peace to the world–the only types of things which seem worthy of our best efforts–but what if having a housekeeper frees up a scientist to do more research, thus leading to a cure for AIDS or a vaccine against malaria?

One of the best ideas in Judaism (I think) is the idea of interconnectedness–how events ripple outward from a single event. Example:  On your way to work at the local mechanic’s shop, you see an expensive car on the side of the road with a flat tire, and next to it is a well-dressed man looking at the wrong end of his tire iron. Feeling sorry for the guy, you stop and change his tire for him. He thanks you, then goes to work at a hospital, where he is an emergency room physician. He walks in, only to find a young man in the ER who is on death’s door. Before he can even change his clothes, he goes to work and does something no one else thought of, and saves the young man’s life. The young man grows up to invent a cure for cancer, saving the lives of millions of people–all because someone saved his life, and all because you helped the doctor change his tire so he could get to work on time.

In Judaism, you–the mechanic–earn cosmic brownie points for this entire sequence. You don’t have to invent the cure for cancer–you don’t even have to directly help the person who does it–you just have to do a good deed that ripples out into the world.

If you think about the world that way, then it doesn’t seem silly at all to do what y0u’re best at–even if that’s sorting peanuts at a peanut butter factory, or painting buildings, or writing vampire fiction. If you just do it to the best of your ability, and do it joyfully, then the rest will work itself out. If God gives someone a talent–no matter how menial or “dumb” it may seem–there must be a purpose for it in the world. And it doesn’t matter if someone else in the world can do it a hundred times better than you; if you’re doing your thing at the right place, at the right time, that’s much more valuable than someone who’s much better, but who isn’t there at all.

Or, as I’ve learned from Judaism: When I go to heaven, God won’t ask me why I wasn’t good like Moses or Abraham, but why I wasn’t the best Keri I could have been.

On a related note, Rosanna C. Rogacion, on her blog, Writing Prompts from Life, shares this poem:

Prayer of a Writer 

Lord of all things, whose wondrous gifts to man
Include the shining symbols known as words
Grant that I may use their mighty power only for good.
Help me to pass on
Small fragments of Your wisdom, truth, and love.
Teach me to touch the unseen, lonely heart
With laughter, or the quick release of tears.
Let me portray the courage that endures,
Defiant in the face of pain or death;
The kindness and the gentleness of those
Who fight against the anger of the world;
The beauty hidden in the smallest things;
The mystery, the wonder of it all….

Open my ears, my eyes; unlock my heart.
Speak through me Lord, if it be Your will.  Amen.

–  Arthur Gordon

It really makes writing seem like a noble calling, doesn’t it? A God-given talent which needs to be exercised and cultivated until you are the best you can be.

6 comments on “A God-Given Talent

  1. J.L. Lyon says:

    Excellent post Keri. I think a lot of times writers listen to those voices that say “why read (much less write) fiction? Aren’t there better things to do with your time?” But good fiction is more than just storytelling and entertainment. It’s inspiration, and inspiration is a power that can’t be measured. I like the image you give of the “ripple effect” because it is so true. We have no idea sometimes how our menial tasks are important to the grand design, but they certainly are.

    The best illustration I have found in Christianity for using our gifts to the best of our ability is the Parable of the Talents in the book of Matthew. The two servants who invested and received a return on their master’s talents were approved, while the one who hid his talent in the ground was not. So why do we hide our talents/gifts in the ground?

    • Keri Peardon says:

      That is a good parable. Of course, when I was a kid, I thought that it wasn’t so bad to safely bury the money, because you’re not always guaranteed a return on your investment, and you might end up losing money–which is a bad thing if it’s not your money to lose. (The concept of “parable” might have been a bit over my head, LOL.)

      But talents (skills, not coins) aren’t something which can be lost. At worst, your attempts to improve and multiply them will come to nothing. But, more likely than not, you’ll make them better.

  2. Ms. Nine says:

    Nice post. Writers need affirmation. Thanks.

  3. skfigler says:

    Thought-provoking post, as usual; well-worth reading. I can see writing for extrinsic rewards, particularly for money and/or a bit of fame. We want and sometimes deserve reward for our efforts, time, and talent. And perhaps there is also an eternal reward for doing so, as the parable and the poem suggest. I think that we write best when we cast thoughts of reward out, and stay inside our characters and stories. Maybe with the exception of genre-formula writing. But I’ve seen so many writers focused on what sells, what’s hot, or even ‘am I being literary enough?’ So many potentially good stories drown in mid-stream from this.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I’m finding that there’s a balance to strike between my needs and the needs of my audience. My second book is really that way. I want it a certain way–and have been working with it so long, I think of it as making perfect sense–but my pre-readers were less than happy with two of my decisions. So I’m letting it stew in my brain for a bit, then, as soon as I have the first one published, I’m going back to edit it. I’m still not going to change the plot, but I’m going to change the timing and the circumstances to make the idea go down easier–to work up to the shocking bits more slowly.

      The hope is that, by the time I’m finished with my edits, I will still be happy with the way it turned out, and so will my readers. That’s a win for everyone, and I think that’s the ultimate use of talent–to give enjoyment to others without compromising yourself in the process.

      And, you know, this used to be a good business principal: balance the needs of the company (profits) with the needs of the customer (service, amenities, etc.). That has fallen by the wayside, though, as companies only focus on increasing profits. And people are becoming increasingly hostile to those businesses. A tipping point has been reached; the consumer will stand for no more.

      • skfigler says:

        You say: ” the ultimate use of talent–to give enjoyment to others without compromising yourself in the process.” Absolutely what it is or should be all about.
        As for whether “a tipping point has been reached…consumer will stand for no more,” I hope so.

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