Strengths and Struggles

What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Most of us would far rather answer the first question than the second. We’d prefer to think about our strengths over our struggles.

It’s hard to admit what we struggle with. Our culture has set up the expectation that we live as though we aren’t weak in any areas, like we don’t need help with anything at all, like we can do it all ourselves.

But I know that’s not the case for me. And I’m willing to bet it’s not the case for you, either.

There are things I’m good at. But there are also things I’m not good at. Some of those things are issues I’ve battled time and time again, frustrated each time I see them cropping back up even after I think I’ve wiped them out.

Struggles make us stronger. If we only paid attention to areas in which we’re already strong, we wouldn’t have to challenge ourselves as much. We wouldn’t experience as much growth.

We should recognize and lean into our strengths. We have them for a reason. They provide us with ways to help those around us and make the world a better place. They give us opportunities to do things that we enjoy.

But we can’t be good at everything. You and I are unique. We have different sets of talents and gifts. We are good at different things, and we work better together as our strengths complement each other. If we were one hundred percent the same, our friendships would be very dull. We wouldn’t have as much fodder for conversation, less to learn about one another, fewer things to discuss, and less room for growth. We need our strengths and struggles to make us unique individuals.

We are better together. We need each other. In order to work best, though, we have to acknowledge the areas in which we are weak, the places for growth in our lives, and be willing to be vulnerable with others we trust. Then they can walk with us in our struggles, provide advice, give encouragement, and share their own experiences.

Our strengths can provide opportunities to teach others and share our skills with them. And our struggles are areas in which we can seek opportunities to learn from others. In both cases, there are ways for us to challenge ourselves, grow, and build relationships with others.

It’s important to focus on strengths and struggles that are really important to you. If you’re strong in an area that you’re not passionate about, know that you don’t have to spend all your time pursuing it. Maybe it will come in handy in some small (or not so small) way later on. Maybe it is something you can simply choose to not pursue right now. There are plenty of other things you can focus on instead that would be a better use of your time.

Similarly, I suggest focusing on improving areas of growth that you think are important to your life. You don’t have to be good at everything. You can choose to just not worry about being good at some things, knowing that you are good at others and your worth doesn’t lie in your ability to excel at everything you try. However, sometimes there are things that you really do want to improve on, like photography skills (that’s where I’m at), organization, healthier eating, exercise, or kicking a bad habit.

In order to pursue anything very well, we need to be willing to really focus on it. If our attention and efforts are divided between too many things, we aren’t able to pour enough energy into any of them because we’re spread too thin.

Choose to pursue what matters most to you, whether you consider it to be a strength or struggle.

Know your strengths. Lean into them. Find ways to explore them in new ways. Grow them. Challenge yourself.

Admit your struggles. You can’t get better at things if you don’t face them. Look to others who are good at what you’re not. Seek advice from them. Get help if you need it. But give yourself grace to know that you don’t have to be good at everything.

What are your strengths? What are your struggles? Have you found good ways to improve your strengths or grow in areas you’ve struggled in? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Using Your Voice

We are called to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves, to defend and protect and care for the poor, sick, and lowly of our world. We all feel compassion for the children on TV commercials, but how often do we do anything about the pain and suffering in our world? How often do we instead change the channel and turn our thoughts to more pleasant subjects?

These are issues that are of far greater significance. These are things that bear eternal weight. Loving others is one of the greatest things we can do in this world, and using our resources, voices, and connections to do so is a wonderful example of putting love into action. Love does things. Love speaks up. If we want anything to change, we need to be willing to act and fight for change.

I’ve been following Lindsay from Pinch of Yum for a while, and I really like the recipes and anecdotes that she shares. I feel a special connection to her because we live in the same area, but today, my heart leapt for joy at reading her post about work being done at a children’s center in the Philippines. She took a bold step in diverting from the normal conversation topics on her blog and ventured into vulnerable territory, sharing stories from her time spent there at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu and showing how amazing the work being done there is. She is challenging her readers to support the work being done by helping provide food for the kids the shelter expects to gain this year, and I think that is definitely a worthwhile investment. Instead of spending so much money on ourselves, will we take the leap and pour our resources into something more eternal? Will we help fund something far more significant?

I’ve been praying for greater direction in how I manage my finances, seeking ways to make contributions to worthy causes that will make my money go much farther than I ever could. And this is an answer to that prayer. I personally have decided to support The Children’s Shelter of Cebu as a part of Pinch of Yum’s 5-day campaign to raise enough money to feed the 20 kids the center expects to gain this year, and I hope some of you might choose to join me.

This is a chance for us to make an impact on our world, to help others, and to support some amazing work being done on the other side of the world. I understand some of you might not be financially able to support this cause, or might not be interested, and that’s okay. But I hope some of you will be encouraged to use this opportunity to make a positive difference. And if you choose not to participate, I encourage you to think about other ways you can put whatever resources you have to use in supporting an organization that you value (I know there are many, many great causes out there that deserve our support), because as Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

We Need Each Other

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. -Ecclesiastes 4:8-10

In our culture of independence, it can be really difficult to admit that we need one another. We like to think that we can do it all ourselves. Somehow we have equated dependence upon others with weakness.

But can we really do it all by ourselves? I know I can’t, as much as I sometimes would like to think I can. It’s when I’m flying high, thinking I’ve got it all together on my own, that I crash and burn, humbled and reminded that I need to involve others in my life if I want to continue to grow and live a full life. I need to rely on the strengths of those around me, especially those who are strong in areas in which I am weak.

I’m often blind to my own faults, and I need people in my life who know me well enough and love me deeply enough to point them out to me. I need friends to encourage me when I get discouraged, make me laugh when I’m down, challenge me when I’m getting complacent, and motivate me when I’m being lazy. The only people who can do this are those that I let get close enough that they can see the not-so-pretty parts, not those that I keep at an arm’s length.

When I set my default I-can-do-it-by-myself tendencies aside, feelings of loneliness and isolation subside, and shame goes running for the hills. I am no longer pressured to hide my struggles and weaknesses, showing the world only select parts of who I really am. Those kind of authentic relationships give me life and joy, instead of leaving me running on autopilot and constantly making sure my mask of perfection is still in place. And when I’m living in the security of knowing I can be honest and real, I give others permission to do the same with me.

As my sister wrote this week, we learn best together. When we experience life in community, we build off one another, sharing our knowledge, points of view, and experiences, and we challenge each other to continue growing. We see the deep, rough parts of each other’s hearts, and we live life together in the darkest nights and brightest days. We get the benefit of multiple perspectives, past experiences, lessons learned, and knowing we aren’t fighting alone.

As we receive help and love from others, we’re learn to extend the same gift in return. And as we discuss difficult questions, create an atmosphere of safety and acceptance, open up the floor for any and all questions, and struggle to find answers, we forge some of the deepest friendships we’ve ever known.

By having a solid base of people to turn to, we have a support system and firm foundation for when things get rough. We know we can ask them for prayer and help no matter what life throws our way, and that knowledge alone is empowering. Seeing prayers answered and witnessing true change is a powerful force, but one that we only experience when we live up close and personal with one another– enough that we get to see both the “before” and “after” pictures. It allows us to face life’s obstacles more confidently, trusting that although we can’t climb all of our mountains alone, by God’s grace and with the support of those who have our backs, we can continue moving forward.