The other week, my pastor’s wife invited me and three other ladies over for a birthday lunch. No, it wasn’t my birthday or theirs or hers. She had decided to host several themed lunches this winter and invite several ladies from church each time as a birthday gift for us.
This lunch had a garden theme—or perhaps, considering the fact that it was February and had been February for about five months, the theme was really Hope. She made the most darling little toadstools out of hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and dots of cream cheese, and nestled as they were next to the pile of greens on each plate, I half expected a fairy to peep out and wave at me. (Although…I don’t think fairies live at her house. Fairies like a little dust. When they’re in the area, they throw parties at my house.) The broccoli soup was delicious, and the fresh fruit salad was amazing, and the decorated table nearly fooled me into believing it was green, not white, outside. (If I were a real blogger, I’d have a picture of it, but I’m not, so I don’t.)
I had expected it would be lovely, and I had braced myself for it.
See, I don’t have her gift.
Just for the record, I do not resent her ability to lay a table that looks like it belongs in a magazine and create food that’s almost too cute to eat.
But there was a time when I might have.
I would rather go to the dentist than a Tupperware party, and I’d rather be a dentist than host any kind of party. I’ll do birthday parties, but only under duress (almost-eight-year-olds can create much duress). There is no way I’d volunteer to do what my pastor’s wife did. It boggles my mind that she actually enjoys it.
Even knowing I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, I still struggle with feeling inadequate and clumsy and uncreative when I see what wonders can be wrought with a flowerpot and some ordinary brownies.
I end up holding an internal dialogue that goes something like this:
You should do something like this, Stephanie.
You know you’d be miserable every minute of it.
But it’s so lovely.
I could just Google a party theme and copy the ideas I find.
The only thing you’d enjoy about hosting a party would be the research.
But it’s such a beautiful way to make friends feel special.
And why—exactly why—do you think you need to do it?
Because…because…she’s doing it?
Here’s the truth: Intellectually, I know we all have different gifts, and this variety is a blessing, not a curse. Emotionally, however, I feel intimidated when other women use gifts I do not have, and make a success of it.
I also worry. When I see people being blessed by someone’s gift of hospitality or conversation or thoughtfulness, I worry that I’m being selfish. I’d rather write 10,000 words than host a party. Shouldn’t I be looking for more extroverted ways to serve other people, even if I am not an extrovert?
Here’s the trouble: I have this mindset that enjoyment = selfishness. If I enjoy doing something, then I am probably being selfish when I do it. If I love writing and dislike throwing a party, then I should be having that party because my dislike makes it the least selfish.
Perhaps this mindset stems from the bred-in-the-bone teaching that the Christian life is one of self-denial. We give up our own desires for another’s sake. We sacrifice, we give, we serve.
If I take self-denial far enough, it means that anything that gives me joy should be exorcised from my life. Self-denial taken far enough puts me in a hair shirt, in a bed of nails, on a diet of water and butterless bread.*
Which is perfectly ridiculous. While God expects me to suffer for Christ’s sake, He doesn’t expect me to suffer for suffering’s sake. He gave us “richly all things to enjoy.” A Christian’s life is characterized by joy in serving God and others.
My pastor’s wife said she had so much fun planning those parties. Would I say she was wrong to find joy in using her gift to bless us? Of course not.
So what is the matter with me? Why do I think I need to suffer in order to bless others? Maybe I can minister to others in my own way and be grateful I can do it with joy.
Gifts—also known as talents—are abilities and skills we are able to do well. Most of the time, if we can do something well, we enjoy doing it. It seems to me that God designed us to find joy in the gifts He gave us.
Not that I can refuse to serve just because I’m not good at something. When the signup sheet appears, I need to put my name down to host the evangelist for a meal. When guests come, we welcome them and gladly, because if our roles were switched, I’d want a warm welcome and willing host. I can do many things outside my comfort zone, and I find blessings in the doing every time.
But the idea that it’s selfish to enjoy using a particular gift? I can’t find any evidence that it’s more spiritual to deny myself the joy of using my God-given talents. In fact, Jesus condemned the servant who buried his talent.
So if my pastor’s wife wants to have fun hosting another party, she is welcome to invite me. Who I am to rob her of joy? Besides, I like her parties, because I like her.
And she doesn’t rob me of my joy, because she allows me to write about it afterwards.
* * *
*There is also the self-denial of fasting, when we deprive ourselves of physical comforts in order to draw closer to God or seek His will or intercede on someone’s behalf. That’s another subject entirely.
** The title comes from Romans 12:6: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us….” (I love that grace is involved.) The verses that follow say we need to use the gifts we are given.
And when I keep reading, I bump into verse 13: “…given to hospitality.” In its context, this is an instruction to all Christians, not just those with a gift for hospitality.
Oops. I have work to do. Literally. The evangelist is coming for supper tomorrow night.
But what does it mean in 1 Corinthians 12:31? Covet earnestly the best gifts?
I need to do some more thinking and studying and writing.
But not now. I have food to make and floors to wash.