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When Your Gifts Are Small

By November 10, 201517 Comments

About once a week I read something that is so beautiful, so powerful, so exquisitely written, that I have two distinct reactions:

1. Total Delight.

2. Crushing Discouragement.

The second reaction is not about jealousy, though I certainly struggle with that too. More often, the discouragement comes from feeling kicked in the stomach by reality. Truly great writing–the kind that takes your breath away–reminds me of the cold hard truth that I will probably never write like that.

I promise this isn’t false modesty, and I’m not being unfair to myself. I know myself and my gifts. Some writers have the heart of an artist. They use their words like a painter’s brush. They can capture the majesty and mystery of life and faith in the most subtle yet devastating flicks of their pen.

I, on the other hand, was not born with an artist’s heart. Instead, I was given the heart of a teacher. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive–some writers are a perfect blend of the two–but I fall more on the side of teaching. My writing is more of a tool to communicate than an end in itself.

I know it sounds silly, but I’ve felt a lot of shame about this. Whenever I’m in the presence of bona fide writer writersI feel very sheepish. I feel like a hack, like I’m not really one of them. My writing is not the caliber of my role models, or even my friends, so I shrink inside.

If you’ve read much of my writing, you know I am passionate about Christians using their gifts. God gave each of us talents, and we all play an important role in the Body of Christ. In fact, the Body is crippled if it misses even one. I am a big cheerleader for that truth.

However, for all my clapping and cheering about gifts, my own self-doubt points to something I missed. As much as I encourage Christians to hone and steward their gifts, I overlooked an aspect of “gifts” that is distinctly Christian:

Sometimes, God askes us to embrace the modesty of our gifts. Sometimes, He even asks us to scale them down more.

This is a very different message from cultivate! practice! train! get better! your gifts make you SPECIAL!

It’s not that those messages are wrong–they’re actually very important–but there is a subtle “bigger is better” message underlying them. When it comes to our gifts, there’s a temptation to start climbing the ladder of success. We can start to measure our gifts by our achievements, or our praise.

Contrast that temptation with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2. Paul, a highly educated man, wrote this of his ministry:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (v. 1-5)

Paul pulled back on his gifts. He didn’t use them to their fullest expression, and his example has challenged me in two ways:

First, it encourages me to welcome the limitations of my gifts. I might not write with the soul of a poet, but that’s not really my concern. God gave me particular gifts for a particular kind of influence. I may not be an artist, but there is a time and a place for teachers too. The world needs both.

Second, sometimes God calls us to rein in our gifts. Even in the areas where you truly excel, God might be calling you to smallness. This is an area where I especially relate to Paul because, like him, I have a lot of education under my belt. I know how to write academically. However I rarely write for academic audiences, so I adjust my words. I write not “with eloquence or human wisdom,” but in a way that, I hope, makes God’s truth accessible.

To be totally honest with you, that second part is the hardest for me. What’s difficult is not the writing style, but my insecurity about what others think–old classmates, professors, fellow writers–I wonder if they think I’m not as serious as they are. I wonder if they think my calling is below them.

In the face of that fear, Paul’s words fill me with peace. I remember that it’s not about me, and it doesn’t matter if anyone judges my writing (they’re probably not anyway!), as long as God is glorified.

I also take comfort in this: Jesus himself “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” but humbled himself and took the form of the servant (Phil. 2). In many ways, this is the ultimate paradigm for thinking about our gifts. God doesn’t measure our gifts in comparison with one another. He measures them by love. Our gifts are for loving God and loving others. Sometimes, that means not being the best. Sometimes that means humbling yourself and making yourself small so that you can reach those who feel small too.

The next time Satan whispers, “Your gifts don’t matter because they’re not as good as hers,” remember: when your gifts are less than someone else’s, when your gifts feel small and invisible, or when you sense God calling you to pull them back–that might be the precise moment when they matter most.


Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 9.59.09 PMSharon




  • Casey says:

    Hi Sharon,
    Do you have any resources you recommend for people trying to figure out what their gifts are?

    • Sharon says:

      Great question, Casey! I know there are tests out there that you can take, but I think those are hit or miss. It’s can be easy to sway them to the results you want. That said, nothing beats asking your friends and family. Ask the people who know you best, what gifts do they perceive in you? It’s a great way to find out what people see in you, and to let them speak over you the gifts God has given you!

  • I went to highly regarded New England women’s college. Recently they posted about a “Women in Public Service” forum they had, where the featured guest was a classmate of mine who was a high level advisor for one of the people running for president. I had been feeling in the dumps that some how I was failing because I was “just” a teacher. But the more I teach, the more I am confident that this is exactly where God wants me to be, even if it doesn’t satisfy my ego.

  • Tim says:

    “God might be calling you to smallness” – great line, Sharon. See, you do know how to write the powerful stuff.

    But I get what you mean about comparisons. If I look at my writing, I see flaws. But if I look at what I’m trying to achieve through my writing, I don’t see as many. I want to encourage people, and I can do that whether my writing is of the highest literary caliber or not. (And it’s not, you know.)

  • Rachelle says:

    What a wonderful encouragement. I often feel this way about my gifts and my writing. Thank you for your words.

  • Lisa Hurley says:

    Hi Sharon. I forget how I originally came across your blog but I’ve been following for a long time, although I’m not one who comments a lot. But this piece really spoke to me. Two months ago my blog went viral, drawing nearly a million visitors over a 2 week period. I was so excited and thought “oh here we go.” Six weeks later my daily traffic is pretty much back to normal and I’m back to being the little blogger I was before. And if I learned anything from all of it, it’s that small is quite alright on so many levels. I think it’s a blessing for all of us to recognize and embrace our smallness. Great work and deep influence come from small platforms. Your writing makes me feel less alone in my insecurities. Your thoughts stir up my thoughts and your light for Christ brightens my day. Your commitment to continue shining that light is an inspiration. Thank you!

    • Sharon says:

      I had to scoot over to your blog to check out this post! That is NUTS! And overwhelming. It really was a great post–so glad it spread around, even with all the craziness it invited!

  • Tiffany says:

    Thanks for this! It’s a good reminder. I’m easily distracted by what kind of writer/blogger that I’m not, which really does sometimes steal the love and heart behind why I write in the first place. Good reminder. I need these a lot in this season! 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    This post resonates with me quite a bit. Thanks for sharing your gift!

  • Lesley says:

    Sharon…you have no idea how many of your posts touch my heart in the exact way it needed to be reached. You are a great teacher, and I’m so thankful for your words today.

  • Excellent Article! Thank you for being so transparent. God Bless

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