Sunday, February 17, 2013

When Our Gifts Abuse Us

I've had this topic on my heart and in my head for a long time.  I know it probably sounds pretty dark, and I'm really not intending to write anything terribly emotional, but I feel like this is something we don't talk about enough.  Whether you're a musician, a pastor, a day laborer, a scholar, or none of the above:
What happens when your gifts are used to hurt you?
Now, let me define this a little.  When I say gifts, in this instance I mean the intrinsic qualities that every person has that makes them good at one thing or another and the purpose to which the talent/gift is used.  This could mean being good at playing the piano, but on a deeper level, it means having a gift and desire to play the piano for the purpose of praising God.  It could mean being a gifted speaker, but it more means being able to speak in such a way that you connect with other people and bring them closer to the Creator.  So, it's not just being good at a particular activity, but it's being gifted to do a certain thing well for the greater glory and benefit of God's kingdom.  Hence, even though it's not something you can get a degree for or earn medals in, listening, for example, is a gift that some people have and other do not, and it can do much to communicate love and acceptance to another person in Christ's name. 

As a person currently training to be a musician/minister/church leader, I have become very aware recently of how our gifts--given to us to bring glory to God--are sometimes used and exploited by other people to bring harm to me, the bearer of the gift.  I know this may not be everyone's situation, but I know one of my gifts is a tender heart.  Yet, there are people in my life who see my tenderness as a weakness, and direct their hurtful words and action at me to bring my heart pain.  Or, there are those who see a person gifted at listening, and proceed to place on that person numerous mental and emotional burdens without reciprocating love back to their neighbor.  I'm sure the list could continue on all the ways our gifts can be exploited by other to bring us pain, but I'd like to get to the question at hand: 
What is a healthy response? 
Unforunately, I don't have an authoritative answer for this question.  I still struggle with it on an almost daily basis.  However, I think the place to start lies in learning to set boundaries.  Allowing others to hurt me through my gifts means that I have not set limits in relating to this person regarding how I will or will not be treated.  Sometimes we do not realize when someone mistreats us through our gifts until we are in the thick of it, but that is no reason to allow such behavior to continue. This also requires that re-orient our ideas of what it means to love another person.  Loving my neighbor does not require me to stop loving myself.  In fact, I contend that my ability to acknowledge and encourage dignity in another corresponds directly to the dignity I afford myself.  If I lose my own dignity and identity in order to love another person, then I have not loved them at all.  Rather, I have aided and abetted a continuation of destructive and abusive behavior.  Yet, in setting relational boundaries, I create situations which diffuse manipulation by honestly expressing how I wish to be treated.  In the process, I also set an example for what healthy Christian love looks like.  Let us remember that Christ gave up everything for us except His identity.  Even in the face of the worst of human abuse and destruction, Christ redeemed us by remaining who He is.  Jesus did not love the world by transforming into the political leader the Jews desired, nor did He succumb to the desire others had to cloister Him away when opposition to His prophetic teachings grew.  Yes, Christ could have been a brilliant political liberator, but that wasn't His purpose.  Yes, Christ could have easily escaped suffering and death, but His identity lay not in preserving His own life, but in dying and rising again, that we might have life through the Suffering Servant, God Incarnate.  

In our imitation of Christ's love for God and love for neighbor, may we find the wisdom to use our gifts well with a strength of purpose and identity that only comes from God's guidance.  Then, may those who abuse see that true love communicates dignity and respect of self and of neighbor.