A few weekends ago, I got the privilege of attending a Women of Faith conference with my mom and sister and mother-in-law. One of the speakers there that weekend was Marcus Buckingham, who works in strengths assessments and utilizations. He brought a whole light to the way I use the word “strength.”
So, in light of that conference, I asked my middle school students this week, “When I ask you to tell me what strengths are, what do I mean?” And unanimously, they decided that a strength is something you’re good at. And, conversely, a weakness is something you’re bad at. Which, up until a few weeks ago, would probably have been my answer as well.
And yet, as Marcus held up a magnifying glass to the word, that particular definition makes no sense at all. The Lord tells us over and over in scripture that He is our “strength.” Really? God’s purpose in our lives is to become something we’re good at? And over the course of the weekend and the following weeks, the definition of that word began to be transformed in my mind. What if a strength isn’t at all something we’re good at, but something that makes us strong? What if a weakness isn’t something we’re bad at, but something that makes us weak?
What if strengths and weaknesses aren’t words that should measure our proficiency in any given area? What if, instead, they’re a key to unlocking a deeper part of our souls, a deeper part of who we are, a more abundant life? And what about weaknesses? What if weaknesses are things you may or may not be good at, but in the end, they always sap you of energy and inspiration and life. It may sound silly, but those questions have created an “Aha!” moment for me. Or, rather, a series of moments.
Am I living in my strengths? I mean…not only does God want to be my ultimate strength, but he’s given me other strengths as well. He’s put abilities and talents and situations and people in my life that I would most definitely classify as strengths, in the “unlocking a deeper part of my soul” sense of the word. And the more I find myself utilizing those strengths, the more I find myself personally fulfilled, and able to pour into the lives of others using the energy I’m given.
An example. One of my strengths is the written word. Sometimes it comes in the form of music, sometimes it comes in the form of journaling or blogging. But every time I sit down to put pen to paper, I feel alive and I feel as though that life is something worth sharing. A story worth telling, even if it’s only ever read by myself. I find a power in writing things down, in preserving my thoughts and experiences for another day when God will bring me back to them and make them more useful than ever. Writing makes me feel like my thoughts might hold weight past today. Like I’m learning things that aren’t just for this moment. Writing feels like immortality to me, in a sense.
On the opposite ends of the spectrum, one of my weaknesses is mingling in large crowds. Which might surprise a lot of people; I fake it quite well, to be honest. But nevertheless, I struggle with this most every Sunday when I go to church. Not because I dislike my church or the people in it; QUITE the contrary. But the ten minutes before the sermon and the ten minutes afterward are excruciating for me; I need far more than ten minutes to engage in the intimacy required for anything but superficial conversation (which drives me nuts in and of itself). Especially when they’re people I don’t know incredibly well on a real-life level. There are always small groups of people talking, and I face the challenge of navigational questions. “What group do I join for conversation? How do I make my way into that conversation? What if I’m unsuccessful and seem awkward? How long do I stay there before I move to another group? Will the first group be thinking that I’m rude for leaving, or are they still wondering why I joined in the first place? What about the second group, the one I’m thinking of navigating into? What if I have nothing to add to their conversation?” Let me tell you, this is EXHAUSTING. Even on the days that I do manage to squelch all the questions in my head long enough to join up and talk with people, I leave completely exhausted from the effort of silencing the voices in my head.
Why do we spend so much time trying to improve in the areas of our weakness, and so little time immersed in the strengths God has given us? What is it inside us that calls us to never be satisfied with what we do have, with all that God’s blessed us with? Not saying that we should float through life with no thought for how we can improve, ways we can grow. But I know that I always focus my “growth” energy into my weaknesses, and very rarely think about the ways I’m really truly tapping into what I’ve already been gifted with.
This week, my prayer is to focus on my strengths. To love them well and build them up and be used through them. Praying the same for everyone I encounter.