(Woodcut illustrating the Parable of the Talents courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
One of the things I've come to realize is all of us have a certain level of discomfort with our talents, and the sad thing is we have a tendency to bury them in one way or another.
I had heard from an old acquaintance from high school who I have reconnected with on Facebook. She was wanting to get together with me for lunch and catch up, and in this interchange, she had a strange admission: "I wish I had gotten to know you better in high school but you were so intimidating because you were so smart." I told her that I had never really thought much about my intelligence, because I thought it was like how some people have brown hair or blue eyes. It was just there.
I thought about another conversation two of my other classmates had. One thought the other was "gorgeous, but stuck up." The gorgeous one replied, "Stuck up? You're kidding! I was so incredibly SHY, and it made me uncomfortable when people told me I was pretty, so I just clammed up!"
Well, the more I thought about my statement to my classmate, the more I started to realize that there was some truth to what I had told her, but something else piled on top of it. I sort of knew that my intelligence was intimidating to people, and it was my tendency to withdraw when I could feel that tension in the room about it.
The classic story went like this:
I have always been bad about "impulse control" when the light bulb in my head turned on. It's like the light comes on, and I start rattling on about things no one ever thought of, or dared say, or wanted to put out there, but for me, it has always been like the sheer momentum of this knowledge building in my head created this pressure behind my teeth that I had to spill it out of my mouth to get relief. This is like some kind of giant force that I can't control. I have even wondered at times if this is what it feels like for people with Asperger's or one of the autism spectrum disorders--this feeling that one might explode if he or she doesn't just say it.
So out it came.
Sometimes, then, I'd look around the room and get "the look." This look like "Where'd that come from? And what are we going to do with it? Are we supposed to do something with it? Or not?"
But over the years, it created this oddly comfortable space for me in groups. The Smartest One in the Room. It was kind of like, "Okay, once we have established I'm The Smartest One in the Room," I have a space, and I don't really plan to lord this over anyone, or necessarily have my way with it. I just want to claim my space as The Smartest One in the Room, okay?"
I found it was very very hard for the group to function after that, sometimes, because it put other people on edge whether I approved or disapproved. What made comfort for me intimidated them.
So, over the years, I learned to bury this. I learned to keep my knowledge to myself. I learned to hoard it. But if I just shut up and let others do their thing, I became resentful. Resentful they didn't bother to ask me. Resentful when they screwed something up and all they had to do was ask me, and I would have told them. But I learned that "working in groups" meant to shut up and take what everyone else had and swallow it to get along. It was all flipped around. Like the gorgeous person who was shy, not stuck up at all, I was the one who was intimidated!
I have learned that when I am not The Smartest One in the Room, or if I'm not sure whether or not I am The Smartest One in the Room, my tendency is to try new things alone first. I am very intimidated by doing things with no knowledge or experience. Take my recent trip to Joplin to volunteer after the tornado. I would never have felt comfortable going with a group for the first time experience. I knew I was not The Smartest One in the Room. My biggest fear is "looking stupid." Now that I have a little experience in volunteering there, I would be more comfortable going with a group, and being led, or even leading a group. Over the years I've gotten over needing to be THE smartest one, but it morphed to a place where I still can't dare be The Dumbest One in the Room.
Yet, when I do that, I've buried a talent--my talent for being able to adjust to almost any situation--which is a marvelous talent for groups in conflict or turmoil. When I get too worked up about not looking stupid, I create more tension in an already tense situation. I squander my talent.
I've come to realize our talents are not ours--they're God's. When we bury them, we cut ourselves off from aligning with God's desires for us, and with a means to serve God's kingdom. Because we are afraid of losing our talent, we bury it, when God wants us to spend it.
I've thought many times about how one good bout of encephalitis, or one good car wreck with a brain hemorrhage, or one good stroke, and POOF! All that I see me as "me"--i.e., my sense that I am intelligent--is gone. Yet I know God would still love me just the same. I am convinced God loves people of limited intelligence just as much as me--I've always been convinced of that. Oddly, sometimes I am jealous of those people because I think they get to see God in a way that all my so-called brainpower obscures.
I seriously doubt I am solo in these feelings. I'm sure that "whatever our talent is," we all have these weird feelings of insecurity about them. It's a lesson in trust. We come at it from the point that if we lost our talent, God would be angry with us, so we hoard it instead, when it was meant to be spent. Our parable today tells us that hoarding is probably not the right thing to do. We don't entertain the possibility that even if we spent it and it was gone, God might trust us with a new talent to start over. We forget that the Bible has story after story of do-overs with those God loves.
We don't want to entertain the possibility of do-overs, I think, because being at the do-over place implies we failed somewhere. Our fear of not failing creates a hoarding mentality.
What would God's kingdom be like if we could let go of our fears of failure?
(Woodcut illustrating the Parable of the Talents courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)