7 Steps To Sharing Talents – Pt. 3

Little Ballerina

Re-posted from 2016:

This is the last post in a 3-part series. To read Pt. 1 click here; for Pt. 2 click hereIn Step 3 of my previous post, we listed all our talents and abilities. Step 4 dealt with finding opportunities to share our gifts. Now on to our last three steps:

5. Give without worrying about your imperfections or limitations. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8 NIV). You don’t have to be a saint,  genius, or the next winner of a TV talent program to bring joy to others with your gifts. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us will never reach those levels! Give without restraint, and it will free you to be more than you ever imagined. Don’t get discouraged by what you see as your limitations. My mother couldn’t drive in her later years, but she used her talent for knitting to make sweaters and other items for charity.

Your gifts are only as great as you allow them to be. If you feel the need, read books or take a class to improve your skills. But it is by using our gifts and seeing the happiness they bring that we gain the greatest confidence. Our skills will grow as we continue to share them. We will also gain valuable feedback about where we are succeeding and how we can keep improving. 

Jesus told a parable about three servants who were entrusted by their master with varying sums of money (called “talents”), each according to his ability, before he left on a journey. The first two servants invested the money wisely and doubled the amount they had been given. But the third servant, because he was afraid of losing his master’s money and angering him, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he praised the first two servants for their ingenuity and entrusted them with greater authority and responsibilities. But when the third servant returned the money exactly as it had been given, with the excuse that he had been afraid to do anything else with it, the master was angry. He took the money from the third servant and gave it to the first servant, who had returned to the master the greatest amount of money.

God wants us to “invest” in the talents he has given us, and if we do, He will increase them and reward us with greater opportunities and deeper fulfillment. But if we “bury” our talents out of laziness, fear, or feelings of inadequacy, this is contrary to God’s plan. It is not showing proper appreciation and gratitude for the gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Hoarding our gifts gives nothing back to the world, or to God from whom we have received so much. When we stop giving, we stop growing.

Although we fear other people’s criticism and rejection, we usually are our own worst critic. We are eager to answer God’s call to use our gifts.  Then that little negative voice inside us undermines our confidence, reminding us of our limitations and everything that can possibly go wrong. “You can’t do that!” it taunts. And that’s true: We can’t do it, but God can do it through us! If we reach out to God in faith, He will lift us up to our true potential.

6. Remember that sharing our gifts and earning money are not mutually exclusive! What if you are unhappy in your job, or unemployed and trying to find a job, or are in need of additional income? Usually our talents will lie in the areas for which we have a real passion. Many times, these passions point to our life’s true purpose. A career change or an entrepreneurial opportunity will sometimes develop from volunteer work that opened new doors for us. If you are unhappy in your present job, finding ways to do the things you love and for which you have an innate gift can help you feel happier and more fulfilled, whether or not you ever earn any money from it.

If you are unemployed and job hunting, share your gifts and abilities in the meantime. Offering your talents as a volunteer is an excellent way to hone your skills, make new contacts, and ward off the depression and discouragement that can come with being unemployed and searching for a new position. It also is a way to “plant seeds” that will demonstrate your faith and grow into future blessings.

Portrait Artist-cropped

7. Make use of the present time and don’t procrastinate. “So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin” (Jas. 4:17). The excuses are many: “I’m too busy right now,” “I’m not ready,” “I’ll wait until I retire,” “Maybe next year,” “I’m not good enough yet.” But our time on earth is limited. We don’t know if we’ll have tomorrow. By procrastinating, we can miss precious opportunities and later regret it. Future possibilities grow out of what we do in the present. Don’t wait until all the conditions of your life are ideal or your gift is “perfect.” Guess what? This will never happen! Do it now!

As we freely share what we have been given, our power to help others and do God’s work multiplies. Using our gifts is an investment in God’s Kingdom. This is like buying stock that can only go up. Be a star in God’s talent show! Lavishly spending our gifts brings happiness to others as well as ourselves. It fulfills our responsibility to make the world a better place.

What are your particular gifts and how have you used them?  I would love to hear your own thoughts and experiences in the Comment section below. 

 

 

7 Steps to Sharing Talents – Pt. 2

Leaping in Air-edited

Reposted from 2016:

In my last post, I listed some of the benefits of sharing our talents and gifts. I also outlined the first two steps, which were praying for guidance and staying receptive to whatever answers you receive. You can read Part 1 here

Here are the next two steps of our 7-step program:

  1. List all of your talents and abilities. “Then Moses called…every skilled person in whom the Lord had given ability, and who was willing to come and do the work” (Exodus 36:2 NIV). Like a designer of great artistic creations, God gives each of us unique gifts and the power to use them to touch other souls with His light. Open your mind and heart to honestly evaluate your abilities:
  • Do you have a creative gift like music, art, writing or dancing?
  • Are you good with animals? With children?
  • Do you excel in sports?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Can you make people laugh?
  • Are you good at gardening, sewing, cooking, or carpentry?
  • Have a talent for public speaking?
  • Are you a compassionate, nurturing type of person?

Ask people who know you well for their input. This is no time for false modesty! True humility is the ego rising to a higher level just honoring the will of God. It is the attitude that God is the creator of our gifts, and our duty is to use them according to His plan, to honor Him, serve others, and make the world a brighter place.

One way to brainstorm ideas is to use the “mind-mapping” method: Across the top of a large piece of paper or whiteboard, list all your talents, abilities and things you love to do. You will be using this mind-mapping list in our next step, as well.

writing-edited

  1. Brainstorm ways you can use and share your gifts.

You don’t have to go far to find ways to share your gifts.  Check out volunteer opportunities in your community, school, local non-profit organizations, church or synagogue. Here are some suggestions for some of the talents you may have listed:

  • Teaching: Offer to teach a class at your local high school’s or YMCA’s adult education program.
  • An outgoing type who loves people, good listener or nurturing personality: Offer your help with fundraising or public relations for a local non-profit.  Volunteer at a local hospital, nursing home or hospice. Many churches and synagogues have bereavement committees for which you can volunteer to help the grieving. Or visit a friend who has suffered a loss or is feeling troubled or sad. Don’t worry if you cannot offer help or advice to solve their problem; sometimes all that is needed is someone who is willing to listen and “be there.”
  • Good with children: Offer to teach Sunday school or religious instruction classes at your church or synagogue. Volunteer at a children’s hospital, or join an organization such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters to act as a mentor for a child who needs your love and caring. Help out a new mother in your community who might be feeling overwhelmed.
  • Love animals: Offer your services at a local animal shelter or rescue group. I love horses, but after being injured in a fall off a horse, my riding days unfortunately were over. However, I greatly missed being around horses, so I became a volunteer at a non-profit horse sanctuary. I not only get to be around dozens of horses, but also have made new friends who share my equine passion!
  • Performing Arts: Join your local community theatre, or consider using your talents to brighten the lives of people in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, etc. If you like public speaking and have a good reading voice, you can become a lector/reader at your church or volunteer to record audiobooks for the blind. Consider giving lectures or workshops about a subject in which you have expertise. If singing or playing an instrument is your talent, join a church choir or community choral group.
  • If getting up in front of people is not your thing, but you are good at carpentry or have artistic talent, your community theater could use your skills as part of their stage crew. If you can sew, the costume department would love to have you!
  • Love books/reading: Volunteer at the local library, or offer your help to a local literacy program that teaches adults to read.
  • Good with computers, web design or graphic arts: Offer your services to a non-profit organization.
  • Gardening: Give your beautiful, home-grown flowers and vegetables to neighbors and friends, especially those who are sick, lonely, or dealing with trouble or grief. Offer to help establish or tend a garden for your church or synagogue. Or start a community garden in your neighborhood. 
  • Cooking/Baking: Share your culinary delights with others. Bring some of your homemade treats to shut-ins, for whom they will bring much-needed cheer and nourishment. Volunteer your skills to charitable organizations that feed the hungry. Bake goodies for fundraising events.
  • Building and carpentry skills: Charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity can always use talented people with these particular skills! If you are good at fixing things, help out a neighbor who doesn’t have the physical or financial resources for needed repairs. Small non-profit organizations usually operate on a shoestring budget and greatly appreciate people who can do remodeling or repairs to their facilities.
  • Writing: Consider authoring an article, book, e-book or blog to share your original stories, poems, or knowledge with others.

gardening-edited

These are just idea starters to get your own brainstorming juices flowing! With a little research and ingenuity, you can come up with many more ideas and find the opportunities that fit in with your particular circumstances and abilities. Take the mind-mapping paper or board that you used to write down your gifts in our last step. Now, using the above list and your own ideas, write as many possible opportunities as you can think of underneath each gift’s heading. Then seek out local organizations that might logically offer opportunities to use some of the skills you listed. An internet search will suggest places in your area that you may not have noticed on your own. Contact them to get more information and see if they can use your help. At least one of them should be just the right fit for you!

True Humility

Does anyone have additional ideas or information? Please share them in the comment section!

Next up: Dealing with imperfections and limitations. Check out my next post!

7 Steps for Sharing Your Talents & Gifts-Pt. 1

This 3-part series is a repost from 2016, for those who might have missed it the first time around! Here is Part 1:

cartoon-cute-girl-playing-electric-guitar-100260845

God is holding a universal, never-ending talent show — are you a contestant?

“When I stand before God at the end of my life,” said American humorist and best-selling author, Erma Bombeck, “I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Yet many of us find it easier to be generous with our money than with our time and talents. Giving of ourselves feels frightening and risky, and we tend to put our own feelings before God. Like a mother bird with her fledglings, God wants to push us out of our nest of complacency to use the talents He has given us. We want to try our wings, but lack confidence in our ability. But God is always nearby to answer our call for help. When we trust in Him, He gives us the strength and courage to spread our wings and soar to greater heights.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all…so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5:13-15, NLT). Let your light shine!

What are some benefits of sharing our talents and abilities?

  • Giving glory to God for the gifts He has given us
  • Bringing joy to others
  • Inspiring others by our example to share their own gifts
  • Finding personal fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Improving and enhancing our talents by using them
  • Opening up new opportunities for us

What if you are not sure of your own unique gifts and abilities, or perhaps you know where your talents lie, but are uncertain about how to share them with others? In this series, we’ll discuss 7 steps for determining your gifts and the best way to use them.

This week we’ll tackle Steps 1 & 2, which are important preparation steps:

  1. Pray for guidance to determine your own unique abilities and how God wants you to use them to brighten others’ lives and find personal fulfillment. Here is a suggested prayer: “Heavenly Father, I thank and praise you for the gifts and talents you have given me. Help me to recognize them and use them according to your will. I might not think they are remarkable, but I know you give only perfect gifts. Give me the confidence to turn mine into a personal triumph — not necessarily in the eyes of other people, but in your eyes. Help me to be open to any opportunities to use my gifts. Remove from me any selfishness, conceit or false humility, and keep me aware of my dependence on you, the origin of all good things. I trustingly place all I have into your loving care. Amen.”                                                                                                                            
  2. Leave your mind receptive to God’s answers and guidance. When we ask God our questions, we need to make sure we give him room to respond. God’s answers come in various, sometimes unexpected, ways, so we need to keep alert and open. Some suggestions:
  • Spend time this week in quiet reflection about what you most love to do and what you think you do well. Quieting the mind is necessary in order to hear the still, small voice that will give us the insight that we seek. Even if you can spare only a few minutes a day, it will make a big difference.
  • If you are already familiar with meditation, use whatever technique you prefer to open your mind to God’s guidance.
  • If you are not an experienced meditator, at least try to sit quietly for a few minutes and clear your mind as best as you can. Sit in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, turn off your cell phone, close your eyes. When thoughts pop into your mind (and they will!), try to just “witness” your passing thoughts without getting involved with them. It’s not easy to turn off the mind’s endless chatter, so don’t get frustrated if your mind is not entirely blank the whole time.
  • Inspiration and ideas may bubble up spontaneously, either during your quiet time or at random times during the day. Often when we ask God for guidance, we will receive it in the course of daily life by something that we see, read, or hear from other people.
  • Carry a small notebook, digital recorder, or use your smartphone to instantly record any ideas while they are still fresh in your mind.
  • Dreams are also an excellent source of Divine guidance and inspiration. Immediately upon awakening, be sure to record any dream insights you have. If you wait too long, you may forget them as your mind becomes immersed in the concerns of the day.

Next in the series: Determining your talents and abilities.

 

 

The Tree (“The Writing” Excerpt #1)

BarrenTree with Title

“The Writing” (with a capital “W”)  is my term for the inspired words I sometimes have received over the years during meditation, especially when I’ve asked for guidance, help or comfort for a particular situation. They did not come from my own conscious thoughts, but flowed spontaneously from a “still, small inner voice”, a Source much more wise, serene and objective. Where I was upset, these words would be calm; where I was angry or resentful, they would be compassionate and forgiving; where I was fearful, they would be unshakably confident.  I’ll be posting them from time to time as “Excerpts from The Writing.” Here is the first one I will share, which was received some years ago at a time when I was feeling particularly stagnated and useless. I wanted to share it in the hope that it might encourage someone else going through a similar phase right now:

“A fruitful tree will sometimes be afflicted with arrested growth and tired, droopy leaves, tested by drought, wind and storms. It will ask itself, ‘Why is this happening? I’ve tried very hard to grow and give of my fruit. I guess I must have done something wrong. I should just give up and forget about every fruit I could have grown!’

“This tree asks itself over and over how it can return to the state of fruitful and productive growth it once had, because it feels useless and put-upon and shriveled up. But no matter how much it tries, nothing changes. The tree stays barren.

Your gifts are like this tree, which has no trouble bearing fruit when conditions are right, but which gets withered under constant heat, or grows too many leaves and not enough fruit when atmospheric conditions are not favorable. This is what happens with your gifts. When conditions are unfavorable, they go dormant and seem to exist no longer.

Blossoming Tree

“A time will come, however, when the sun will shine, the gentle rain will fall, and the troubled period of dormancy will pass. It will turn this tired old tree into a newly-blossoming thing of great beauty. It will want to grow again, and it will see itself bear wonderful fruit. 

“You will feel better, you will see your life improve, you will open your mind to light and truth once again and share that light with others.” 

Much later, I came upon this verse from the Psalms:

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. [Psalms 1:3]

If you are tired and fearful right now, and sure that you will never grow or be productive again, realize that this is just your perception, not truth. You are experiencing a necessary dormancy, just as vital to your continued growth as it was for the tree. Trust in the cycles of life, and know that the breath of God will infuse new energy into you when the time is right.

 

FruitTree

 

What’s Your Motivation?

Loving Hands

Give with open hands and open heart

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold!

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

 

Mother Teresa-2

 

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 2

 

RunnerwithtitleThe first post of this two-part series examined how perception and attitude shape our experiences whenever we encounter obstacles to achieving our goals, and how keeping an open mind and asking for Divine guidance can keep us from giving up. Once you have quieted your mind and prayed for guidance, reflecting on the following 10 questions can help you gain a clearer perspective on your situation and turn your setback into success:

  1. Am I on the right path? If a goal is unrealistic, incompatible with your soul’s deeper purpose, your talents and abilities, or potentially harmful to you or others, the obstacles you encounter might be a way of detouring you to another, better goal. Consider constructive criticism and feedback about your goals from people whose judgment you trust. Don’t seek the opinion of people who might be envious and not want to see you succeed, because they will only discourage you, undermine your confidence and give you false advice. Conversely, people too close to you might not want to rain on your parade, or their feelings for you might cloud their own judgment. But an honest and objective third party might see things you’re missing because you’re too emotionally involved.
  1. Am I using the right tactics? Sometimes the goal is appropriate, but the approach is wrong. If you consistently meet with opposition and failure, it could mean a change in strategy is necessary. Brainstorm to see how many new tactics you can come up with, and then begin to implement them one by one until you hit the right formula. Look to the example of others who have accomplished what you want to do and try to emulate their process to the best of your ability.
  1. Is my timing off? The worthiest goals and the cleverest strategy will not succeed if the timing is wrong. Anxious to reach our destination, we sometimes rush ahead without adequate thought or preparation. When plans stagnate, it’s tempting to try to force results before the time is right, often with disastrous consequences. I have committed some of my worst mistakes when I tried to make something happen that wasn’t ready or able to happen. If you’ve given something your best effort but still encounter a setback, if it seems as though everywhere you turn you come up against a brick wall with no discernible way out, a waiting period might be necessary to allow the right people and circumstances into your life to help you achieve your goal when the time is right.
  1. What motivates me? Selfishness, greed, revenge, jealousy, egotism, or a desire for excessive power can spoil even the most worthy goals. Obstacles and setbacks can force us to examine our motives and determine whether they conform to the highest standards. When we have the wrong motives, even if we succeed we may destroy relationships, hurt other people, and even jeopardize our own soul in the process. As a result, although we might achieve our goal, we ultimately will not feel fulfilled.
  1. Do I need more education, expertise, or experience? If you are unable to compete successfully in your field of endeavor, it might mean you need to sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge, or obtain more practical experience before you can attain your goal. Take classes, or find a mentor or role model who is successful in the field you are pursuing to help you. Read books by and about people who have done what you would like to do. Search the internet for articles, webinars, podcasts and videos that will give you more information. It’s amazing how many people will launch themselves toward a goal about which they know nothing and have never bothered to do any research! Adopt as your motto the old saying, “Knowledge is power.”
  1. Is this setback necessary for my personal and spiritual growth? Obstacles, failure, and stagnation are not only inevitable, but essential to the soul’s development. Growth occurs by overcoming obstacles, not by sailing through life without challenges. No creature is capable of constant productivity. God uses our dormant times to nourish us on a deep level, enabling us to draw upon new sources of strength and ability. The Roman poet Horace said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talent, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
  1. Am I encountering resistance because I am undertaking something important? It’s a known fact that often when we are about to embark on an endeavor that will do a lot of good and help a lot of people, we will encounter obstacles and misfortune, at the beginning and also at various points along the way. Whether you believe in evil forces or attribute it to your own subconscious resistance, these setbacks are a supreme test of your faith and determination to carry on with your high ideals and goals despite the opposition you’re encountering.
  1. Does someone need my help? Our plans are sometimes halted simply because our spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends or neighbors need our attention. Christ often interrupted his preaching and teaching in order to serve people’s practical needs of food, healing, and comfort. This doesn’t mean putting our lives on hold indefinitely or using other people’s needs as an excuse to shirk other responsibilities. But we can rest assured that the time we take from our own plans to show love and caring to someone will never be wasted. It may even open doors to helpful contacts and new opportunities.
  1. Do I need more trust, detachment, or acceptance? Having initiative and determination to make our dreams come true is essential, but we also need the detachment and discernment to know when to let go. All situations, whether perceived as good or bad, are temporary. When we trust God, we know that if we don’t get what we want, it’s because God wants to give us something better. God is not the denier of good things, but the source of them. “When you call me, when you pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you… And I will change your lot” (Jeremiah 29, 11-14).
  1. Is the effort more important than the result? There is a saying, “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” The growth we achieve through our efforts will benefit us, regardless of the visible outcome.

Whenever you experience failure or frustration, remember that everyone who has ever done anything worthwhile has met with obstacles. “I am not discouraged,” said Thomas Edison, “because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Edison’s teachers thought he was stupid, and he was fired from his first two jobs. It is a well-known fact that Edison conducted hundreds, even thousands, of failed experiments before successfully inventing the light bulb.

One of my favorite people of all time, Walt Disney, was fired in 1919 from a job at a newspaper because the editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

If you do research into the lives of famous people from all walks of life, you will discover stories of failure, frustration, and opposition of all kinds. What makes these people extraordinary is their persistence and determination to achieve their goals in the face of all odds. So, if you currently are experiencing obstacles and setbacks, cheer up — you’re in excellent company!

Oh, yeah — you’re probably wondering whatever happened to our writer friends who couldn’t sell their stories: They finally found a small publishing house on the verge of bankruptcy that was willing to take a chance on their book. And Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen became what Time magazine called, “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” To date they have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, with more than 250 titles in 43 languages – and still going strong!

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 1

Marathon with slogan

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

In 1990, two men collaborated on a collection of inspirational stories. They were sure they had a winner, but in the first month alone thirty-three New York publishers turned them down. “No one buys short stories,” they were told, “and your title stinks!” Even their agent dropped them; yet they refused to give up. But after 140 rejections, they seemed to be up against a brick wall. No one wanted what they had to offer.

At one time or another, we all face obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Whenever we make changes in our life or embark on a new venture, we meet resistance from outside sources and from within ourselves. Friends and family may question our goals, or maybe we are inwardly fearful of what lies ahead. Random events beyond our control can also disrupt our plans. Confidence fails; doubt and discouragement replace our initial feelings of hope and excitement. But obstacles are a natural part of progress. If we realize this from the beginning, we can gain insight into the possible causes, and learn from our experiences. We can find the courage to press on instead of giving up.

Few people experience as many obstacles as did St. Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. On top of that, he experienced constant anxiety about the early churches who looked to him for leadership. In Damascus, the governor guarded the city so Paul could be arrested. He writes, “…but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped…” Now that’s persistence!

Undaunted by the innumerable obstacles he faced, Paul continued writing and encouraging the early Church even from prison. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Perception

Events in themselves are not necessarily good or bad. It’s our perception of the situation that labels it, our reaction to it that determines the ultimate effect it will have on our life. “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

When our plans go awry, the human tendency is to react with fear, despair, or anger. We are angry with ourselves for our perceived failure, with other people for getting in our way, or with God for letting us down. But doors are opening even while we think everything is hopeless; changes are occurring during even the darkest times. We cannot see this, because our earthly perspective is limited to our present circumstances. It’s only in hindsight that we understand how each piece in the puzzle of our lives is essential to the entire picture.

Attitude

The late comedian Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine, who used to flaunt her charms with the announcement, “What you see is what you get!” Similarly, what we see when we envision our future is often what we get. Lacking self-confidence, doubting God’s care, and obsessing about everything that could go wrong, set us up for failure.

Equally impractical is the blind optimism that stubbornly clings to unreasonable goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams. People with a well-balanced attitude set realistic goals and focus on success, while still leaving the door open to God’s surprises. They’re confident that nothing happens that God cannot use for good. They know they are guided, even when they can’t see the road ahead or feel God’s presence

 “Make Room for Abba”

Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Father.” If we think of God as our loving Father, it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Jesus asked the crowd during his Sermon on the Mount, “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If God is our loving Father, we can trust that He will give us the very best!

“If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own power,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness, and your intellectual pride, will inhibit [God’s] coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full.”

After Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles didn’t know what their next step should be. During this dormant time, they had to wait for God’s direction. “…They went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer…” (Acts 2:13-14). For ten days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Brick Wall with slogan

Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, letters, etc., but no one responds. You launch a new venture, but the people you counted on to support it are strangely absent, whether through thoughtlessness, self-absorption, or because they’re dealing with personal problems. Your new business seemed off to a great start, but now the phone is silent and no one seems to know you exist. Just as you seem to be advancing toward a goal, you’re hit with illness, a family crisis, or financial problems, and all progress comes to a screeching halt.

During times of stagnation or frustration, surrender your anxiety to a Power greater than your own. Quiet your thoughts and listen with an open mind to what Divine wisdom might be telling you. Gradually, guidance will emerge out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

In Part 2, we’ll examine 10 steps you can take to help turn your setbacks into success. (You’ll also find out what happened to the two authors who couldn’t sell their book!)