A special talent

March 26, 2012

I was watching this Berenstain Bears episode recently.

(Yes, I am a very discerning television viewer.)

In the episode, the teacher confidently says, “I firmly believe that everyone has a special talent — sometimes it just takes a little help to find out what it is.”

Throughout the episode, Brother Bear helps other “cubs” find their special talents to showcase at a talent show. And, of course, the moral of the story is: believe in yourself! You are talented! All you have to do is find that ONE thing!

I turned to my three-year-old son (no, I wasn’t watching Berenstain Bears all by my lonesome… this time) and was tempted to wonder, what is his special talent? What is that one, particular gift from God that has been bestowed from the heavens upon his little golden head? Will he be a world-class listener? An artist? A musician? But then I paused.

Talent is a hot button today. There are tons of books, websites, speakers and television shows dedicated to discovering your talents, improving your talents — and then, with the help of Reality TV and its ubiquitous competition shows — showing off your talents. And as parents, we want to make sure that we help nurture our children’s natural abilities — and that we don’t deprive them of every opportunity to reach their full potential.

But today, I had an epiphany.

I noticed that on the Catholic calendar, it’s the Feast of the Annunciation. The words are fancy, but it’s very simply the remembrance of — in Christian tradition — when Mary said yes. The angel, Gabriel, came to this teenage girl and told her she was going to have a baby (oh, and that the baby would be GOD) and she simply said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

When I read this today, something clicked. There is something in thinking about “special talents” that, in a small way, seems self-serving. What am I good at? What is my very special gift?

But when I think about it in the light of — what is the gift God is giving me to share with the world — it seems more purposeful. In discovering natural gifts and using them, I am saying yes to something bigger than myself.

Malcolm Gladwell, a best-selling author and sociologist of sorts, often speaks on talent. His famous “10,000 hour rule” states that people who are experts in their craft — even if they have natural ability — spend somewhere around 10,000 hours (or ten years) becoming experts at what they do. In other words, they dedicate their life to it.

It reminds me of a story of a famous violinist who was praised by a listener, gushing, “I would give my life to play like you!” The violinist replied, “I have.”

So when it comes to my kids and helping them reach their full potential, I think the good news is: it’s not all on me. It’s a lifetime of prayer, patience and practice that drives us toward becoming — day by day — who we’re supposed to be. Maybe an angel won’t come and reveal some divine plan, but hopefully, we are nudged in pathways that show us how we can best serve others.

Isn’t it funny how I never thought of Mary as particularly talented before? She wasn’t a concert pianist or a world-renowned orator. You probably wouldn’t see her on stage on American Idol or behind the chopping block on Iron Chef. But her talents were profound: she trusted that there was a purpose for her life bigger than what she understood — and in that, she changed the world.

“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – St. Teresa of Avila

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