We’re coming into the time of the year when thoughts turn to gifts. Many of us will have Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a family member or friend. We may bring food to share with others. Sometimes we also bring a gift for the host and/or hostess. It could be flowers or little delicacies or a bottle of wine – something a bit special to express gratitude.
Of course, the big gift-giving extravaganza will be coming in about six weeks. Some may spend portions of Thanksgiving Day at a big box store, trying to snag a good deal. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become holidays themselves. We’ll make lists and lists; try to stick to a budget; hope that the people to whom we give Christmas gifts like them and don’t return the items on December 26.
The church concerns itself with gifts, as well – and in this context, I’m not speaking specifically about our financial contributions that enable our congregations to carry out their ministries, although those gifts are certainly necessary. Above all, the most important gift that we received is the gift of faith in Christ. There are other gifts, however, sometimes referred to as spiritual gifts of gifts of the Spirit, that each of us is given to help in the building up of the community of Christ. Different denominations have slightly different listings of these gifts but all are based on Biblical sources.
Without going into each of them in detail, the more significant spiritual gifts for the benefit of the community of believers include administration (not necessarily exciting but certainly necessary), artistry and music, skilled crafts, discernment, evangelism, assisting those facing a personal conflict or spiritual need, hospitality, prayer, knowledge, leadership, mercy, service, shepherding, teaching, wisdom, and writing. Just as with children who may be gifted in certain abilities, we do not get to pick and choose what spiritual gifts we may have – these gifts are bestowed upon us by God. However, gifts aren’t dropped into our laps fully formed. Just as a child prodigy must practice the violin daily to develop her innate skills, we must more finely hone the spiritual gifts we have so that they can be of greater service to us and to our siblings in faith.
But there are many other kinds of gifts and perhaps it would be good to look at gifts in another way – that of each of us can be a gift in and of ourselves to others. Each of us has something – our own gift – to share with the neighbor next door and with the person across town we don’t know. And sometimes, even with much discernment, we do not know what that gift may be until someone else points it out to us.
Several years ago, prior to moving to the Boise area, I began to wonder what would fill up my days once we lived here and I fully retired. Yes, I like to knit and I’m learning to play the oboe, but those activities alone would not make for a fulfilling life. Plus there are only so many home fixer-up shows I can watch in a day. One afternoon, out of the blue, my daughter in law suggested (rather forcefully) that I become a court appointed special advocate/Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for foster children in the Idaho Fourth Judicial District. I demurred, noting that other than representing teenagers in juvenile court nearly fifty years ago while in law school, I have no experience speaking up for kids. She insisted that I have the right gifts to do this; she would not give up on encouraging me to get started.
Finally giving in to her insistence and coming to the realization that being a GAL would be a meaningful way to serve my new community, I made a call to Family Advocates, the sponsoring agency. After several months of training, honing the gifts that I have, learning new skills, and under the knowledgeable wings of my supervisor, I am now a GAL for two families of foster children. Is it easy? Not at all. Can it be heartbreaking? You bet. Can one get upset at systems that often seem not to have the best interests of children at heart, even though people who work in those systems give their all to better the lives of the children? Yes. Would I give up the hugs from the children when my visits come to an end? Never. Do I think that the gifts God has given me are being put to a meaningful use? Absolutely.
Each of us has the opportunity to decide what to do with our God-given gifts, whether for use for the life of the church, the well-being of our planet, in our families or for our fellow human beings. We can develop them or let them lie untouched. We can use them or waste them. We can listen to the observations of others about the gifts we have or ignore their words.
This year, before starting on that Christmas gift list, take the time to realize that you yourself are a gift, having already received the greatest gift of all, God’s love showered upon you that can never be taken away. Listen for the rustling of the Spirit calling you to be fully you. Then nurture the gift the is you so that you can be a gift to others.