I can almost picture St. Paul reading the material about Living Your Strengths, shouting “YES!” page after page. In time, I hope to get a sense of what St. Paul’s top five strengths were. So what is this all about? The starting ideas of this new ministry at St. Louis fit beautifully with what we have been hearing in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. God has given us all certain attributes, a unique personality, a unique mix of gifts. We become more mature Christians through discovering those gifts from God and developing them (with the help of the Holy Spirit). As we begin using our gifts and talents in the community, they become strengths that bring joy to us in their use and build up God’s kingdom as they are shared.
Sometimes we have received a different message. Each of us certainly has weaknesses or areas where we are not especially gifted. We have often been told, or challenged, to expend our time and energy developing the areas that seem less gifted, so we will achieve balance. Living Your Strengths suggests that such a strategy is like telling right-handed people they need to develop their left hand, and left-handers that they should develop their right hand, so we can all be ambidextrous. Didn’t God make us each unique? Maybe God wants some folks to be right handed and some left. Putting this in terms of today’s second reading, and Paul’s insight: For the body to work well, the hand shouldn’t try to do the seeing, the nose the walking, the elbow the tasting. Each part has a needed role. One is not more important that the other. We all need each other.
Living Your Strengths is a book that lays out these basic principles, as well as naming and describing 34 themes, or strengths. Each copy of the book includes a code, which can be used to go online and take the “Clifton Strengths Finder.” Doing so provides a unique profile with the person’s five top strengths, or themes. Having been researched and tested with thousands upon thousands of people around the world, the tool is quite reliable, and further research has helped reveal how these themes can be developed and put to effective use.
Again, echoing the insight Paul offers in our reading today, this is central: EVERYONE has five top themes, or strengths. More damaging than the idea that we should start with our weaknesses rather than our strengths is the belief that “other people have lots of gifts, but I don’t have any.” One can’t take the “Strengths Finder” without having five top themes revealed, a mix and order unique to you. Our family, our church, the community doesn’t need any of us to have someone else’s mix of gifts and strengths. What is needed is each of us understanding, valuing and using the unique set of themes God gave us. Learning about the other themes helps us appreciate others and can also help us see how we all can best work together. Read 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 again! Peace, Fr. Bob