Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Just Be Yourself...The Best You Can Be

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Day 32 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

Day 32 begins with this Danish proverb:

What you are is God's gift to you; what you do with yourself is your gift to God.

God created each of us uniquely, with great love and detail so that our gifts and talents complement and help eachother. It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that we should be more like someone else or are inadequate because we don't have someone else's gifting in a certain area. Day 32 was a great confirmation to me that God created each of us with different strengths on purpose and that we will only cause frustration and stress if we try to be like someone else.

In our efforts to help our children overcome their obstacles, we are drawn to different teaching methods to build up their areas of weakness. This is a very important part of helping them reach their potential. At the same time, we should also be continuing to develop their areas of strength. In many instances, these strengths are what will set them apart and enable them to overcome their difficulties. We should also keep this perspective when evaluating ourselves. As autism moms, we are all drawn to different methods based on what our children need. We have collectively amassed expertise in many different areas and are often the best resource one another has. It is also easy in this position to feel like less than we would like to be when comparing ourselves to others-another trap. We are our children's best asset when we take the time to understand ourselves and operate from our own place of strength.

Rick Warren gives us some suggestions about where to start, so that we can discover our gifts and develop them:

Begin by assessing your gifts and abilities. We do this by taking an honest look at what we do and don't do well, as well as where we've had our most success. Rick Warren recommends asking people who know us well and states that "Spiritual gifts and natural abilities are always confirmed by others." (p. 250)

Consider your heart and personality. This is another area where it helps to hear from the people who know us best. We have to ask ourselves questions that lead us to discover what we enjoy most, how we like to work best and how we perceive the world.

Examine your experiences and extract the lessons you have learned. This one takes a great deal of time. In fact, Rick Warren recommends we take a life review retreat, where we review our entire life and take the time to see how God has worked in our most defining moments. He also recommends keeping a spiritual journal, where we document the way our experiences have shaped us. (p. 252)

Once we have taken the time to understand ourselves better, God wants us to accept and enjoy ourselves. I was catching up on Joyce Meyer's Enjoying Everyday Life program and really appreciated what she shared about her own journey to self-acceptance. As she was studying and building her ministry, she was very drawn to imitate her pastor's wife. This woman was very soft-spoken, creative and very good at all things homemade. Joyce Meyer felt abrasive and inadequate as a homemaker in comparison. She became convinced that she needed to become just like her, and tried to grow/can her own vegetables, even make her family's clothes-just like this other woman. The results were comical and quite disastrous: a swarm of bugs attacked Joyce's vegetables (but the other woman's were fine) and she made shorts with pockets longer than the legs. Time after time, God confirmed that it was never His intention for Joyce to be anyone other than who He created her to be. She later found out that the devil had also convinced this pastor's wife that she was inadequate (too quiet, not bold enough) and needed to be more like Joyce. How unfortunate for both of these valuable and talented women! (Joyce Meyer: Enjoying Everyday Life, Letting Go And Learning to Enjoy, 2009) How often do we do this in an effort to be better when the best we thing we can be is ourselves-just as we were created to be.

As Rick Warren points out, part of accepting who were made to be is staying within our own limitations. If we try to act outside of God's plan for us, it is likely to cause stress and frustration. We can only do well that which God anoints and purposes for us to do. God wants us to find joy in serving Him with the gifts and talents he has given. As we do this, they will be blessed and continue to grow. As illustrated in Joyce Meyer's example, the devil will try to keep this from happening. He does this by tempting us to compare ourselves to other people and conform our ministry to another's way of thinking. (p. 253) Changing our God-given course of action in response to criticism is another temptation we may face to keep us from accepting and enjoying who we were made to be. (p. 254)

Once we are able to accept and enjoy who God made us to be, we are to continue developing those areas. As Rick Warren points out in the parable of the talents, this is a "Use it or Lose it" situation. The servant who used his talent fruitfully saw his talent greatly increased, while the one who failed to use his talent lost it. (p. 255). If we continue to use and develop our gifts they will grow and be blessed. We can set a good example for our children and encourage them to do the same.

There is one other example that I would like to share. As I prayerfully consider homeschooling my son with autism, I have been networking with other mothers to help me make a balanced decision. On a discussion board, some of the mothers were asking one another for strategies to help their children to develop their children's areas of weakness in visual and auditory processing. I thought that the best perspective came from a 50 year old woman with autism who shared about how she handled this in her own life. She stated, "all of us have weak areas that force us to rely on others who are stronger in that area...that's why we need eachother so much." (-qt) She also went on to share that love and acceptance (as well as a relationship with the Lord) were her biggest help. This personal statement that she includes in her signature is a great example of the lessons this chapter aims to teach us:

"Never forget how important you really are...that you are needed and loved. No one can replace you, and only you can do the best job of being you!" (-qt, used with permission)

Bible Verses from Day 32:

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. -Romans 12:4-6

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in men. -1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -1 Corinthians 15: 58

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. -1 Timothy 4: 14-15

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