When your child is young, he is probably more interested in the bow on his present than what is in the box. Eventually, he discovers what is inside is more exciting than the wrapping (unless Martha Stewart is your aunt!). He will eagerly tear the paper to get to what is inside.
God gives everyone gifts or talents. We will teach our child how to open a birthday present, but have we taught her how to open her gifts from God? My guess is many of us still have presents from God we have yet to open. We haven’t even thought about teaching our children how to find and open their own gifts.
When most preachers discuss gifts, they will usually refer to the story of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. I have heard various interpretations of this passage over the years. I personally prefer to look at the lives of the apostles as an example of people discovering their gifts. Peter was a fisherman who became a great preacher, missionary and writer. John was possibly even a teenager when he was an apostle. Also a fisherman, he became an important mentor, writer and preacher for the early church. I seriously doubt if you had interviewed any of their mothers, the women would have predicted the young boys they were raising would do anything different than their fathers had done.
Obviously, the difference was that Jesus became a part of their lives. He mentored them and gently helped them discover their gifts. I believe when he sent out the disciples on their own for a period of time, he was helping them try out their talents. My favorite part of Matthew chapter 10 is when Jesus reassures them not to worry about what they will say, but that the Spirit will help them.
As parents, our job is not to tell our children what we think their gifts should be. I have seen too many parents project the gifts they wish they had been given on to their children. I went to college with too many accounting majors who wanted to be artists or teachers who wanted to be historians or writers. They were miserable, because they were not doing what God had gifted them to do.
So how do we help our children (and ourselves) find out what gifts God has given us? I have no studies or scriptures I can quote (although they may exist) which show the perfect way. I have seen over the years what seems to work. I have watched children who have grown in to gifted adults. They are now men and women who are active in the Lord’s work. They have numerous gifts and it seems like every time you talk to them, you discover a new gift they have. You have probably met a few of these gifted individuals yourself.
There are a few qualities I have noticed many of these people have in common. The first and probably most important is that they have a close relationship with God. They study the scriptures, pray and actively look and listen for God’s direction in their lives. If they believe God is leading them to develop a new talent, they ask Him for clarification. They start down the new road and follow the open and shut doors God provides. They don’t try to push through a closed door because they “know that this is what God would want for me”. Instead they follow God’s directions as they are given.
Gifted individuals are willing to do “chores” even in areas that are not in their areas of giftedness. They will clean up after a church fellowship, help in the nursery and pour juice into communion cups. Sometimes God just needs us to pitch in and help. I have even been asked to help for a time in areas where I most definitely did not have a talent. God gave me the ability to do those tasks properly for a time and then allowed me to find an appropriate replacement when my real talents (and time) were needed elsewhere.
Finally, they are willing to follow their heart and risk looking foolish by attempting new things. I strongly believe finding your talents may mean going down a few roads which do not lead to a discovery of new gifts. Sometimes the only way you can be sure is to start trying something new. God will give you confirmation if it is one of your true gifts. Sometimes it may only lead to a fun experience or in my case a few amusing anecdotes. That is fine. You may also discover the amazing ways God can use your newly found gift to further the kingdom.
My daughter and I have had a lot of discussions about talents lately. She is in a period of discovery. She is attempting new things. Some she has a talent for, but she doesn’t particularly enjoy them. Other areas she may love, but she may have little talent in those subjects. Some are her passion and she is obviously gifted in those areas. She may find she will use all of these experiences for God at some point in her life. Some she may only use for short periods, while her obvious gifts she will probably use most of her life.
The best thing I can do for her is to encourage her. Encourage her to develop her own close relationship with God. Teach her how to see His guidance. Encourage her to follow her heart and try new things. Teach her to try to help God, even in areas she think she may not enjoy, just for the experience. Currently one of the gifts she is the most passionate in pursuing is in an area she thought she disliked for years. Suddenly, last spring, she decided she wanted to try and take lessons in the subject. She has loved every minute and has some obvious talent in the area.
I know, as a parent raising a child in a competitive world, it seems counter-intuitive to allow your child to “dabble”. In reality, you may actually help him discover how God will use him in the future. We do have some rules about activities revolving around respecting the income of the person teaching you the lessons and giving a new activity a fair chance. Beyond that, it is our daughter’s walk with God. We can give her guidance, support and love. Ultimately, we need to teach her to listen for God’s directions. Eli knew to tell Samuel to ask God what He wanted when God called him. We need to do the same for our own children.
As a late bloomer in some of my gifts, I would encourage you to start seeing if there are some gifts you haven’t discovered. If your heart has always yearned to learn something, you are never too old to try. You may find you have a few gifts from God you still have to open! Have fun and enjoy the process of discovery for you and your child. You may just be amazed at what blessings God still has in store for you.