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Heaven is using your talents
In the 25th chapter of Matthew's gospel, Jesus tells what is called the "parable of the talents." Here the word "talent" is a little unconventional by today's standards. It actually means a large sum of money. A Bibical "talent" was a type of currency, and converted to today's standards one "talent" would be worth about half a million dollars.
In the parable, a master gives different amounts of money to three of his servants, and then leaves to go on vacation. He gives five talents ($2.5 million) to guy #1, two talents ($1 million) to guy #2, and one talent ($500K) to guy #3. And he tells all three of them to look after his money while he's gone. The first two trade the money around (on their equivalent of the stock market), and they both double what they have. The third one buries the money in the ground to keep it safe.
When their master gets back, the first servant explains that he now has $5 million. The master is elated, and rewards him. The second servant explains that he now has $2 million, and the master is equally happy with him as he was with the first guy. But when the third servant reveals that he still has the exact same amount that he started with, the master is furious and scolds him harshly, saying that the servant should have at least put the money in a savings account where it would have earned interest.
The point of the story is all about using what you've been given. And it's about more than just literally investing money in the stock market; we can actually substitute in today's meaning of the word "talent" (meaning skill) to gain some insight.
Maybe you've been given a talent for cooking, or a talent for raising children, or a talent for playing the flute. What this parable teaches us is that you've got to use your talents! Jesus even starts out by saying, "The kingdom of heaven is [like this]..." The kingdom of heaven is like taking risks to use your talents, rather than burying them in the ground with fear, doubt, lack of confidence, and so on. The final servant, the one who was reprimanded, hides his talent and never uses it. The world has no idea that his talent ever existed. And Jesus is clear that this servant's mentality is NOT heaven.
This is something that I've had to work on over time. I play a number of musical instruments. Anyone who knows me personally knows this, but if you didn't know me personally, you might not have known. I admit: I haven't done the best job really using those talents, and that's actually something I've been thinking about.
Recently I came across the following quotation from Dave Grohl, the frontman of Foo Fighters (and former drummer of Nirvana). This quote was taken from a profanity-laden magazine interview. I've highlighted (and edited) the part that relates:
When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, "Oh, OK, that's how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight hours with 800 people at a convention center and then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it's not good enough." Can you imagine? It's destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old junky drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they'll suck, too. And then they'll start playing and they'll have the best time they've ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they'll become Nirvana. Because that's exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some junky old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy garbage, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don't need a computer or the Internet or The Voice or American Idol.
I think Mr. Grohl is actually spot-on here. I confess that I've had trouble with my own perfectionist nature when it comes to this kind of thing. I often don't want to show anyone a finished product unless I know it's absolutely perfect. The trouble with that attitude is that it often ends up paralyzing your creative spirit, because then it's never quite perfect enough. If everything has to be American Idol-quality stuff, then no one but a superhero could ever get started. Mr. Grohl's comments that you just have to take the plunge with your musical talents, even when you still sound awful, really parallel Jesus' parable a lot. And you can apply that same mentality to any sort of talent.
Don't let criticism, or pessimism, or perfectionism, or fear bury your talents in the ground. Anybody can be a critic. But only you can use the unique set of talents that you've been given in the unique way that you know how to use them. So what if they're not perfectly developed yet? You can't be sure how well they'll be received until you start using them. But you can be sure that they will never be received at all until you start using and sharing them with the world. So get out there and use them! Yes there are risks. Yes there are fears to overcome. And yes there will be criticism. But the promise is that you'll get to enjoy what Dave Grohl calls "the best time you'll ever have," and what Jesus calls "heaven."