“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
This quote, read at our son’s high school graduation ceremony in May, is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but was written by self-help guru Marianne Williamson in her 1989 spiritual best-seller, A Return to Love. It hit me hard enough that I looked it up afterwards.
How often do we hold back for fear of other people’s inadequacies being heightened? How often do we minimize our efforts so the person praising us still feels worthy? How do we deal with an expression that seems to stem from jealousy or seems to be fishing for a compliment in return? How do we let our gifts bloom so others can bloom as well?
I confess, I feel uncomfortable when we are in the middle of worship and one of the participants is thanked for his or her offertory, story or drama, or a wonderful piece of music is applauded. If we are worshiping God, and bringing the gifts we have to bear in that service, how is applause—or expressed thanks—making it any more than a speech at a community meeting? Perhaps expressing thanks is better done after the service. A personal comment made later means more to me than applause at the time.
In I Corinthians 12:4, Paul talks about “many gifts, but the same spirit,” and that these are given for the common good. In I Corinthians 14:26, he says: “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
All things. All gifts. Large and small. Seen and unseen. For example, our congregation has a time of sharing joys and concerns during worship.
A past regular attender was an opinionated woman who had struggled with mental illness for most of her life. She probably wasn’t seen as someone who had a lot of gifts, but she had one special gift. She always had cards, envelopes and stickers with her. She would write encouraging notes to those who had shared during the service. I was often the recipient of one of these cards. Sadly, she has passed away, and I now wonder who will pick up this simple ministry and carry it forward.
As of this writing, our congregation is searching for an interim pastor. Others are in similar situations, or perhaps only have minimal pastoral support. As laypersons are called to fill in, can those of us in the pews let all of their gifts bloom and be gracious to those still learning to use their gifts in worship? Mentoring and building up will be a good starting place.
There will be some services that might not measure up to our standards. Will this dim our worship or make us more humble before God, acknowledging that less-polished presentations may, in fact, be deeply wise and insightful, and pack a unique spiritual punch?
Ev Buhr is the office administrator at First Mennonite Church, Edmonton, and enjoys letting her gifts bloom through music and children’s stories during worship.