Gifts and talents are a form of God’s grace we can offer to others, and they say “to the world who we are.” I love the quote below from Mr. Rogers, and I wish my grandkids had a Mr. Rogers to watch and love. In spite of good advice from Mr. Rogers about using our gifts and celebrating how we are all different, I struggled with being myself and using my gifts in childhood as well as young adulthood. As my tenth grandchild is due next month, I hope my grandchildren can feel free to use their gifts and talents in ways I did not. I hope they can overcome judgement, gender discrimination, and jealousy.
We all have different gifts, so we all have different ways of saying to the world who we are. —Fred Rogers
Judgement of Certain Gifts and Talents
When I was growing up, Christian institutions viewed artistic endeavors as dangerous, slippery-slope kinds of activities. Dancing, for example, might lead to sin and going astray. Maybe it wasn’t explicitly stated, but it was implied. I never learned to dance as a young person—which I would have loved—since it was considered worldly. I loved acting, but beyond the occasional church skit, I didn’t have much opportunity for it. Christian circles undervalued visual arts as well, and I sometimes felt judged as shallow or worldly if I pursued my art. What use was it after all in the service of God? Some churches are improving in this area, but still have a ways to go.
This was my experience, and I hope others fared better, but I suspect most have felt judged in one way or another for pursuing their own gifts instead of pandering to the expectations of others. Had I been a male, I would have had more opportunities, which brings me to the next topic.
My husband was not asked to work in the nursery at the church or babysit anyone’s children. I was criticized if I didn’t do those things regularly, as well as work in the kitchen—again, my husband was never expected to. Sometimes I feel that the last thirty years were spent living up to everyone else’s expectations instead of using my gifts, which nearly all fall into the artistic categories. Children make me nervous, and I certainly don’t want the responsibility of keeping someone else’s child from jumping off the top step, eating all the aspirin, or drinking the window cleaner. I was so relieved that I managed to keep my own children alive until adulthood, so please don’t ask me to keep yours alive too. (My grandchildren are the exception to every rule, of course.)
I am sure this goes both ways, but I can only speak from experience about gender expectations for women. Boys should be taught to cook and care for children and do any other activities they might enjoy. This generation is doing better at this than mine did, but there’s still room for improvement. I hope my grandchildren feel free to be whatever they are meant to be, regardless of gender expectations from others.
If we’d all listen to Mr. Rogers a bit more, maybe we could overcome jealousy, our own and the jealousy of others. I remember both extremes as a child. I felt like a miserable failure on the softball field and was so jealous of those who could hit the ball, but we had no choice at summer camp. Everyone had to play. In the classroom, however, I felt pressured to act dumb because the other kids would hate me for ruining the curve. This is a tough one, but if we can talk to our children about all these feelings, it might help. Also, we need to help our children and grandchildren find their unique gifts. Too often, only certain kinds of gifts are encouraged and other devalued.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. —1 Peter 4:10
In many ways, this generation is doing a better job with encouraging children to be themselves and use their gifts. What do you think? Any suggestions for improvement in this area? I would love to hear them in the comments.
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