Childhood, like life in general, isn’t fair. Some children seem to be born knowing what gift(s) God has given them. Their gifts are so obvious, the adults around them easily recognize the gift and offer regular praise and encouragement. Other children struggle – not just in identifying what gift(s) God has given them, but just in general. They seem to always say and do things that result in adults being upset with them – even when they are genuinely trying to do their best.
As they get older, it often seems like those young people with obvious strengths continue to build on their early successes, while those who struggled continue to focus on their weaknesses, mistakes and failures. Many times those who are successful can become over confident or even prideful, while those who struggle may stop trying to find any strengths in themselves.
Yet, there are a handful of young people who don’t follow the normal pattern. They have obvious gifts/strengths, but they are humble and often offer to use their gifts to serve God. Or despite early struggles, they persevere and eventually find their gifts and use them to serve God as well. The difference isn’t really how early young people find their gifts (although the earlier, the better) or how obvious those gifts are to adults. Those who avoid some of the pitfalls of strengths and weaknesses have been taught to look at both in slightly different ways.
- They are taught that both strengths and weaknesses have a flip side. Every strength has a corresponding weakness and every weakness has a strength that can be attached. Children and teens need to be made aware of these connections and the possible ramifications. For example, a child who is always being corrected for being too laid back/lazy, could possibly also be a child who has great patience. Meanwhile, children who are given lots of visible roles at school because they are confident, may also realize that they struggle with arrogance. Both children should be encouraged to work on their weaknesses and their strengths, rather than one child being constantly considered a “problem” and the other a “joy”.
- They are taught people with strengths or weaknesses different from their own are not necessarily “better” or “worse” than they are. Yes, in certain situations some gifts are more helpful than others, but every gift is needed at some point. Many weaknesses can encourage people to make sinful choices, but those temptations can be avoided and better choices made. It’s really never a good idea for your children to try and determine their value based on the behaviors or attributes of others. The standard should always be that set by God – and God loves them even when they struggle.
- While many gifts/strengths can also be used to help earn a living for the people who have them, financial gain, fame or power should never be the primary goal. God gives us gifts to use in service to Him. Some gifts can also be used to earn a living. For some people, like for many of those with the gift of teaching, the two can be combined and they can earn a living using their gift, while their career is also their ministry. Encourage your children to think about using their gifts to serve God first, then explore whether or not those gifts can also be used in a future career.
- As gifts/strengths are identified, the focus should be on developing them to their full potential and using them to serve God. Even a child born with an obvious gift needs help developing it fully. Mozart had to be taught how to capture the tunes he heard in his head and write them as sheet music others could play. Arrogance often takes root in the hearts of those who believe they have nothing to learn from others in their area of giftedness. Likewise, your kids will need help finding ways to use their gifts to serve God. This may require creativity for some gifts, but if God gave the gift, He must know there is a need for it somewhere.
- Most gifts/strengths are best used to serve God outside of the church building. Too many hours have been wasted with people arguing about whose gifts get to be on display in front of the congregation. Often though, the most impact on the world for God comes from those using their gifts to serve God outside of the confines of the church building.
- Encourage godly self esteem – a realistic understanding of both strengths and weaknesses. Your children should be humble about their strengths, but not so humble they “bury their talent” like the man in the parable. Likewise, they shouldn’t become so focused on correcting their weaknesses that they fail to see their strengths that could be developed and used to serve God.
Helping your children navigate their strengths and weaknesses isn’t necessarily a quick or easy process. Done well though, it will make living the Christian life much easier for them.