Let me preface my comments about the value of talents with a little story, courtesy of St. Matthew, 25:14-30.
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours. But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be moaning and wailing and gnashing of teeth.’”
While the talents of this story consisted of considerable sums of money (the equivalent of twenty years of a man’s wages), the story works equally well when we consider the definition of talents as the natural endowments of a person. Each of us has natural, God-given talents; we’re born with them. We didn’t earn them, nor does having them mean we are somehow special or better than someone else.
We can strengthen our talents through diligent study and practice but can only accomplish so much if true talent isn’t there. Some people may be completely unaware of some or all of their talents or feel too frightened of what may happen if they use them. That was the fate of the third servant in the parable, and for his failure to take advantage of the opportunity his master had provided for him, he lost what he had been given and was cast into the darkness.
But rather than dwell on his fate, let’s focus on the success of the first two servants. Notice the master did not give them the money; he only made it available for their use in his absence. Nor did he promise to cut them in on any gains he realized; he gave them the talents, each according to their ability, and rewarded their industry with his praise and the promise of more and greater things to come.
There are two important points to take away here. The third servant kicked away his opportunity to take advantage of what the master had given him because he was too focused on the consequences of his possible failure. Notice he didn’t lose his master’s money, he put it in a safe place. His failure was a result of focusing too much on his own shortcomings and weaknesses and not enough on employing the talent he had been given in a useful and profitable fashion. The lesson here is to define yourself by your talents and strengths and not your shortcomings and weaknesses.
The second point is to studiously make yourself aware of your talents. Many people are convinced they don’t even have them or, if they do, they should be modest about it and not go around putting them on display. Do you know what your talents are? You do have them, I can assure you of that. How do you feel about your talents? Are they something you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with or are you OK with having them? As kids we can acquire some pretty odd ideas about having talents, but you’re not a kid anymore and owe it to yourself to spend some time examining both your talents and your attitudes toward them.
You were given these talents to use and it is only through their use that you will feel happy, content and peaceful with your life. Basing your life on building, strengthening and utilizing your talents, whatever they may be, is infinitely more rewarding than defining yourself by your shortcomings and weaknesses. While it’s helpful to be aware of your shortcomings and weaknesses, avoid focusing too much on them; they are not who you are.
One way to explore your talents is to ask a trusted friend for their feedback on what they’ve observed about you over time. There is some good information about talents available on-line, books, articles and inexpensive on-line personal inventories. Of course, there’s a lot of useless drivel available as well but you can sort through that and separate the wheat from the chaff.
There are times in everyone’s life when they are on the cusp of a new discovery, needing only one more incident to help them over the tipping point; this may be one of those times for you. If you feel lonely, dissatisfied or otherwise in a rut with the way your life is going, doing this type of research and experimentation may be just the thing you need to help turn things around. It can help provide a whole different perspective from which to view your life; it may serve to “connect the dots” with many seemingly unrelated ideas or thoughts you’ve had floating around in your consciousness. It would constitute a worthwhile and rewarding use of your time.
If nothing else your dentist will be pleased: all that gnashing can be pretty rough on your tooth enamel!