Archive for the ‘strengths’ Tag

Response Part 3: Are Limitations Good?   4 comments

I agree with Elisabeth that “where I am weak is when I get to see God at work,” though I think it might be good to consider what this may or may not mean.  How does God work with or in spite of our weaknesses?  He can certainly override or bypass or compensate for our inbuilt weaknesses when he chooses, but I expect, like any other miracle, it is the exception rather than the rule for him to work contrary to the traits with which he uniquely designed each of us (and the circumstances by which he shaped us).  Not only the abilities, but the limitations he gives us are integral to our design, a key part of who we are.  A car is great for driving, but it is pretty bad at sailing.  If we make a car to also sail, those adaptations will hinder its ability to drive well, which is its true design. 

Allow me to get personal.  I was raised by a mother who was not time conscious and a father who was very time conscious.  This was the source of much contention, especially Sunday morning, and both my mom and dad agreed that the “right” way to be was prompt, which of course meant my mom was inadequate and my dad was adequate.  Dad was organized and Mom was disorganized; Dad planned out everything well in advance and Mom flew by the seat of the pants; Dad was very analytical and Mom was not.  We were taught by both parents that we should emulate our father in all these things, because this was godliness, and thus avoid the weaknesses of our mom.

Most of my life I fully believed this to be true.  My dad even taught a college ethics course that included a section on the moral necessity of being good stewards of our time.  The good ol’ American values of productivity and efficiency were apparently a fundamental part of God himself, handed down to us in his word.  The verses in the Bible about being punctual are fairly meager, so he used arguments such as the injury we did others by being late (“keeping them waiting”), which was both selfish and unthoughtful.  It is more the emphasis than the idea which became a real problem for me.  One could argue that good stewardship of the body requires daily bathing with soap for good health and so make showers a moral issue, but I don’t think I would go there with it.

It was decades later that I started to question this thinking.  I found that examples of godliness in Scripture seemed to have a very different perspective of time, one that did not include minute hands on sundials.  Jesus himself seemed to be much more God conscious and people conscious than time conscious, and he regularly chose to live by the former values at the expense of the last.

I don’t mean to suggest that punctuality is of no worth, but I wonder if it does not fall farther down the scale of true values than most white, middle class Americans would like to think.  I wonder if it is a constant source of judgment towards other cultures and people who value it much less.  Might our insistence on timeliness do more injury to individuals and relationships than our being more flexible with our schedules?  In fact, is too much of a need for promptness a weakness of another kind and is flexibility perhaps a strength?  Do we unnecessarily devalue the traits of some folks instead of appreciating their uniqueness and important contribution to perspectives, relationships and plans?

I find myself valuing strengths in others that I do not have.  But instead of simply being grateful for and blessed by their contribution to my life, I compare myself to them and challenge myself to be like them… and then judge myself for falling short.  I tell myself that I must be as organized, as gentle, as confident, as humble as they are.  These are all good things to work on, but things that do not come naturally to me as they do to others, and in fact, they usually have their own downside.  People who are temperamentally gentle often have a very hard time confronting others; Those who are typically confident tend to be less open to the perspectives of others.*

If I use a lot of energy trying to “fix” these weaknesses I attribute to myself, I not only make no room for others’ contributions to my life, but I end up undermining my own unique gifts.  Others become competitors to me instead of partners, and relationships suffer.  The differences between us that were meant to teach us, unite us and make us interdependent become the very things that drive wedges between us because I expect others to be like me and shame myself for not being like them.

Let's Work Together!

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*Of course, we usually think of humility and gentleness as virtues (moral attributes which are acquired) and organization and confidence as character traits (nonmoral attributes which are given).  So for the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside the “virtues” and think simply of “traits.”

Response to Elisabeth Part 1: Becoming Myself   Leave a comment

Elisabeth offered some insightful questions on Facebook in response to my post “I Am Handicapped”  She was responding to my comment “We all have handicaps, and we do well to recognize them.  God not only gave us all strengths, but he deliberately created us with weaknesses as well.  I think this was his way of making us interdependent, of tying us together in community.  Our weaknesses are not “bad” things, they are just part of who we are and who we will always be.  I may be able to improve or compensate for my weaknesses, but if I try to quash them or force them into conformity, I am being false to the way God created me.”

Elisabeth wrote, “I have been trying to think what it is that has been niggling at the back of my mind … Anyway, it is a feeling like the “That is just the way I am” statement if received with love and grace seems to be more like “That is out of my comfort zone” “God made me this way so just accept it even though it is inconveniencing or hurting you” … If the other person’s strength meshes with your weakness then that is great… although where I am weak is when I get to see God at work … “That’s just not me” is not off limits to God’s work and purpose. When both people say “That’s not the way I am made” then what happens. A friend told me that when your eyes are “going” (which mine are and I increasingly need reading glasses…smile) that as much as is possible to not use glasses so the eyes will continue to work…If you use the glasses all the time then your eyes just adjust to that. So if someone else “lovingly” steps in and is compensating for my weakness then I adjust to that and don’t trust Jesus to work on it. I am probably not making sense…I am just mulling things through so these are just thoughts on a journey not destination thoughts…”

Wow, she raises so many issues!  Thank you, Elisabeth, I want this site to be interactive.  It seems to me it would be so much more beneficial to all of us if it is a dialogue.  I think this will take several posts to touch on so many things (just to barely touch on them!).  I would like to share my personal journey regarding weaknesses, but the story is so long, I will put that on a separate page for those who have more time or patience or interest.  Suffice it to say here that most of my life I faced personal weaknesses as obstacles that needed to be “gotten over,” to be overcome and replaced with strengths.  I would compare my weaknesses with others’ strengths, setting that as my goal and mentally flagellating myself for falling short.  This belief had multiple downsides within myself and my relationships.

A few of my many weaknesses include forgetfulness, accident proneness, disorganization, and procrastination.  I do my best to compensate for these.  For instance, I am more organized in my work than most folks, but it does not come naturally to me.  Instead of being inherent and well-grounded, it is an entirely jerry-rigged contraption, like a fort built with scrap material by a little boy instead of one made from a manufactured kit by a skilled carpenter.  I have developed multiple props of lists, systems, calendars and the like, but it goes very much against the grain for me to operate this way, so I have to drive myself to it with shame and fear.

Inevitably, in spite of all my efforts, my disorganization glares through, and I fail to do what I am “supposed” to do.  Because my self expectations do not take into consideration my weaknesses, I feel ashamed for not meeting my own standards.  In short, I can only be an acceptable, worthy person by changing into someone I was not designed to be.  I don’t consider what method of work (and what choice of work) may be most fruitful for someone with my characteristics, but assuming that efficiency and productivity are the ultimate goals, I force myself into the system that will best meet these criteria, like David mistakenly trying to get into Saul’s armor to fight Goliath.

Weaknesses are often the alter-ego of our strengths.  In contrast to organization and task orientation, I am more naturally spontaneous, creative, relationally oriented.  By putting all my energy into becoming more organized around projects at work, I tend to stifle my strengths (which limit efficiency and organization).  Of course, efficiency and organization can be quite important, but if I make these my primary, default objectives, I have to ignore and override my natural tendencies which are valuable in their own right and are my particular gift to offer the world.  In contrast, I could use efficiency and organization as supports to my strengths (as needed) instead of a competition with them.  Allowing me to be myself in this way will require those who are more organizationally minded to either be patient with the speed, neatness, and method with which things are done or step in to add their gift of organization (not to insist that this be the paramount value, but just another part of the mix).  In this way we can learn to respect and value one another’s contributions.

Our Needs and Gifts Are Designed to Fit

Posted July 24, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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