In the last 30 years, I have been a member of about a dozen different wards. With each move, I must establish new friendships and create a niche among my fellow saints. Church is a place for shared faith, but it is also a place where many perform a skill that may or may not be related to one’s professional training. If it’s a skill that a sister does not use at work, this often makes church a particularly important venue for expressing that skill.
In each ward I’ve attended, I see sisters who are known for one of these skills: the sister who arranges the flowers at ward events, the sister who can cook for a crowd, the sister who sings solos, the sister who grows vegetables, and so on. I admit that I often strive to establish the following identities: the sister who creates flyers, the sister who reads the most, and the sister who keeps good records. If I move into a ward and another set of sisters occupy all three of these positions, I find myself in a panic. I don’t sing, I can’t decorate anything, and I don’t know how to cook for more than six people. Yes, I want to be useful, but I also want to be unique.
After moving to Wichita and struggling to find my niche, I briefly considered buying a high-end wheat grinder and doing a ton of recipe testing so that I could be “the sister who can make any dinner course based on whole wheat.” Each ward has one of these sisters, and if they don’t, they need one. But then I discovered that someone else in the ward already had that territory covered. I finally found my place by sharing some contested turf with others. We had to find subtle differences in our shared skill sets as a way to peacefully co-exist. I also chose to just exit a couple of arenas, such as baking cakes for ward functions, because a couple of sisters have a far greater investment, and I didn’t want to step on their toes.
In trying to gain some insight on the subject, I recall the parable of the talents. Each servant received an allotment of coins, and each was judged by his ability to increase his portion: “Thou has been faithful over a few things” (Matt. 25:21). This parable is not about displaying a skill but tending to a stewardship. So if I am teaching a class of six year olds, they are my stewardship. Have I accepted these children as little coins from my Master and fostered their spiritual growth? Or did I totally miss the point by spending too much time making a handout intended to dazzle their parents?
If I’m typing up a flyer for a Relief Society activity, do I get off track, making my flyer ornate to the point of distraction? Or do I think more about how the flyer can edify the saints. Justine has an eloquent post that considers Sis. Beck’s request that Relief Society get out of the entertainment business. And if I have a position of leadership, do I misuse my position as a way to make myself even more visible? Or do I delegate? I might ask someone else to make flyers so that she can contribute and experience personal growth. And even though I am loathe to admit it, she could very well do a better job than I.
I probably need to completely extinguish my ego when performing church service and focus more on shared values and shared goals. After all, there is no “I” in “Zion.” Well, technically there is, but you get my point. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that the same spirit is given to each for the edification of all the saints. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Hence, the strength comes from a divine source (and not from self-generated talent) and should be used for divine purposes (and not for individual glory). Instead of using my skills and resources to build up the kingdom of Karen, I need to collaborate with others so that we can build up the kingdom of God.
Do you struggle to find ways to express your skills, talents or spiritual gifts at church? Do you know others who have quiet talents? How do you benefit from the spiritual gifts of others, especially those less public gifts?