Once, while going through a youthful crisis my father asked how I was holding up. I answered him, “Considering the problems many people have, I shouldn’t complain…” I went on to list a few examples of people with problems I perceived as being greater than my own.
He looked at me and said, “Why would you want to qualify your life on the difficulties others have? Why not on their accomplishments? Ask yourself how others have overcome their issues and difficulties, and then apply their best traits to your life, rather than commiserate at the lowest common denominator.”
My father’s understanding was simple, people should never be defined by their problems, or their most negative traits, but rather valued by their striving to best use their talents to create success out of failure, order out of chaos.
He thought it was “blasphemy” to choose to live into, or define oneself as living into, the shadow of failure, or even to live into others judgment that suggest you are a failure… We don’t have to choose to focus on failure. All of which is not to say there won’t be bumps along life’s way, but that we don’t have to let them derail us.
In Matthew 25: 14-30, Jesus tells a story about a man going away on a journey who gathered three of his servants together and entrusted them each with talents according to their ability to deal with the responsibility. Here the word “talent” is used as “a unit of value or worth, money.” One servant is given five talents, one servant is given two, and one servant is given one talent.
When the man returns from his journey he calls the servants together and asks for a report. Two of the servants report they have for him not only the talents entrusted them, but as much in return as well.
The one entrusted with five returns 10 talents. The one entrusted with two talents returns four. They accepted what could have been a problem and saw it as a challenge and opportunity given them, and took positive steps to bring forth the best possible end. The master says to each, “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.”
The third servant does not fare as well, blaming his master’s temper, going so far as to insult his master’s character and the problems he feared might come about if he didn’t do well with the talent entrusted him he buries his talent, and offering a litany of excuses for doing nothing returns to his master the very same talent — unused.
This servant allowed negativity, fear of failure, and a defeatist attitude, to overwhelm him. He had failed before he started. His attitude is condemned.
God wants us to strive to rise above, and even far beyond, our circumstances. He wants us to outwardly display His power and love at work in us, transforming us, and through us His transformation of the world around us. If we use the word “talent” to reflect another meaning, our abilities and gifts as God has blessed us, then we understand that he wants us first, to recognize our talents, then use them to our best advantage, and finally to offer all to His glory.
Jesus overcame death and the grave, and with that same power at work in us, we can overcome the challenges of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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