We are usually told that our talents are gifts. I suppose they are gifts in the sense that God has given them to us for free. We are blessed to have them. After all, not everyone has the same talents. Some of us are blessed with a great singing voice, some with a graceful dancing body, some with awesome athletic abilities. Whatever we are given, we ought to be grateful.
However, I think that when we consider our talents to be just gifts, it becomes easy to take them for granted. If we are given a gift, say for our birthday or for Christmas, we did not spend for that gift nor did we exert effort in searching for it and getting it gift-wrapped, etc. Instead, it is given to us and our only job is to enjoy it. If we don’t like it or if we get bored with it, we can decide to throw it away or give it to someone else.
It is also easy to use our gifts as a source of pride. Let us say we were given a gift by the most admired, most powerful and most important person in town and as a result we are envied by other people. We are blessed, these people will say, because we are favored by this superior person whom everyone looks up to. In time, it will be easy to consider ourselves superior to others who were not equally blessed. It will seem to us that some people are given less valuable talents. The athlete who has won several medals is superior to the perpetual bench player, and the famous singer who has fans around the globe is worlds apart from the average singer who has only won local contests.
I think a better way of looking at our talents is to think of them as responsibilities. Think of them this way:
God has assigned us a garden which we are responsible for. Some of us are assigned flower gardens, some vegetable gardens, some fruit orchards. Some are assigned large areas of land, some only small areas, and some are only given a potted plant. God also gives us good soil, good seeds or seedlings, bags of fertilizer, the right tools, etc. Then He leaves us but not without saying first, ‘Make this garden bear great fruit.’
So we tend our garden, sweat a lot and become tired. In the end our efforts reward us with fragrant flowers, big vegetables or sweet ripe fruits. Once the garden is ready for harvesting, God visits us, pats us on the head and gathers the harvest to be distributed to other people leaving us only a few of whatever it was we grew so we can enjoy our efforts.
‘What!’ you might exclaim. ‘I slaved in this garden and I only received a pat on the head and a dozen of my fruits! Where are the choirs of angels to sing me praises? I want to be visited by those who taste my fruits so they can thank me and kiss my hands and perhaps my feet as well. Behold the great fruit grower who can grow such sweet morsels in his beautiful garden!’
Now see, it isn’t your garden to begin with, nor are the plants yours, nor are the tools,nor the amazing fertilizer which makes even the most sickly plant grow. They are all God’s and He only asked you to make His garden grow.
Further, you have no say regarding how the fruits of your labors are to be distributed. God can give you as much or as little of those fruits as He chooses; but don’t worry, He’ll probably give you some of the harvest of other gardens. It doesn’t matter how much or how little God gives you since you will notice that you will always be given enough for your needs.
If we think of our talents like gardens which God assigns to us, we can maintain a properly humble attitude about ourselves and our achievements. Those who are given large areas of land cannot consider themselves superior to those who are only given small areas and more so to those who are only given a small potted plant. Indeed, if we maintain our humble attitude, we will likely think of the person assigned the potted plant to be lucky since he only has to take care of a single plant instead of hundreds.
I think those who have great talents are those who are given large areas of land and tasked to take care of hundreds of plants or trees. We can think of these people as the geniuses with IQs over 200, the great athletes who win medal after medal, the famous singers, dancers, artists and actors, honorable statesmen, etc.
Those who have average talents are those who are given smaller areas of land. We can think of them as minor geniuses, college athletes who don’t make it to the professional league, less famous artists and statesmen, etc.
Lastly, those who are given just one or a few potted plants are those whom the secular world would consider as ordinary. They are the folks whose main responsibility is to take care of themselves and their families. Perhaps their talents include being a good father or mother, being a good spouse, a good friend, a good neighbor, a good parishioner, etc. It is easy to dismiss them as inferior to those who were given more important responsibilities, but we must always remember that God assigns us responsibilities according to the abilities he has given us.
What can we be proud of? Can we not be proud of our achievements? I think we can be proud of them but only in the proper way. We must always remember that the garden is not our garden but God’s, the harvest not ours but God’s to be distributed as He chooses. Instead of being proud of our flowers or vegetables or fruits, we must be delighted that we were able to work with God in making His garden grow, that we were able to assist in His plans for His people, and that, as we observe the smiling faces of those who were given the fruits of our labors, we were able to contribute to their happiness.