Where do gifts come from? Whether you believe your gifts spring from your genetic makeup, a scientific phenomenon like a “big bang”, or as a gift from a spiritual source, what is undeniable is that you have come into this world with gifts, and you will leave this world with those gifts, having given them along the way. Parker Palmer reminds us that, “every human is born with some kind of gift, an inclination or an instinct that can become a full-blown mastery.” Gifts form an essential part of our passion and purpose, and give us a lifetime of opportunity for finding our true identify and offering who we are to the world.
But, in times of crisis like we are in right now, we tend to hunker down and do what seems most important in the moment. We act from a place of instinct and urgency to solve the current problem in front of us, not thinking of much else. We may be thinking, “I’ll get back to those wonderful gifts of mine when things settle down a bit.” However, if we slowed down for a moment and considered it, we would realize that our gifts are what is most needed in the world right now.
Here’s the part that can throw us off track: Many of us will be asked, by ourselves or others, to give our gifts in new ways. We’re used to giving our gifts at work, but many of us are no longer employed. We’re used to giving our gifts in our community, but many of us are being asked to stay in our houses. While this is discouraging news for us, it is very exciting news for our gifts, which want to be challenged, adapted and given.
Our gifts want to grow. It’s only our uncertainty or fears of the unfamiliar that cause us to hold back. In these moments, each of us is being asked a fundamental question: “What is being asked of my gifts right now?” Lewis Hyde is well known for his simple but profound statement encouraging us to answer that question and to act: “A gift is not a gift until it’s given.”
I have witnessed this first-hand in the last two weeks. My two adult children lost their jobs due to the virus closing down their employers. Single, and caught off-guard with few resources, they have both moved back into our home. My son’s boss told him recently that he has good technical skills, but what draws other employees to him is his generosity and kindness. They continually flow out of him during the workday. Now, even in the midst of pervasive anxiousness about his future, he still brings a kindness and generosity into our family home every day. He seems to have a sixth sense when one of us needs a kind word and he helps out in small ways without anyone noticing till later. I have been reminded in the last few weeks of his true gifts. My daughter has a gift for peacemaking. She has made a career of helping to coordinate multi cultural exchanges and has lived in five countries teaching. She has said, since her very early teens, that the world would be a more peaceful place “if people would take the time to sit down and have a piece of pie together and just talk.” So she became a pie craftsperson. When she was younger, she’d make a pie when she was sad, a pie when she was happy, a pie when she knew someone needed one. Since she moved back home, our house is once again full of pies. As I watch her joyfully creating pies in the kitchen, I feel a peacefulness and contentedness that I have been struggling to find the last month. Two people finding ways to express their gifts in new, unexpected situations.
Mental health professionals are telling us it’s normal to feel stressed, discouraged, and confused right now. This is exactly the kind of time when gifts can help us find solid ground to stand on in four specific ways. First, giving our gifts give us a positive way to act in the midst of this difficulty and discouragement. Because we’re passionate about our gifts, they get us off the couch and moving. Second, because our gifts have been with us our whole life, giving our gifts now reminds us that we are living in a bigger story than what is currently happening. They give us perspective and hope for a future. Third, our gifts keep us grounded in what we value about ourselves, which gives us strength and helps us feel like we have some control over what is going on. And fourth, giving our gifts help us to find specific places in our community where we can feel like we are needed and we belong. Not the places where we feel like we “should” act, but the places where we feel called to do something because it aligns with our purpose and passions. This reminds us of a powerful and practical idea about gifts— if everybody gives their gifts, there will be enough. One person doesn’t have to do more than their share. Abundance is all around us all the time.
For a deeper dive into gifts, we can watch out for another opportunity. It’s likely that the opposite of many of our gifts will rise up in these times to challenge us. The shadow side of our gifts tends to appear when we are afraid or stressed and not always able to act out of the best parts of who we are. If you have a gift for motivating others, it’s possible that you will feel lethargic and unmotivated yourself. If you have a gift for creativity, it’s possible that you will feel overly frustrated by not having a lot of great ideas or by others who seem stuck in old ways. If you have a gift for peacemaking, you may feel more irritation or conflict with others than usual. If you have a gift for helping others have some structure and order in their lives, you may become excessively rigid in your own life now. Our gifts are asking us in those moments: “How much do you really want to live into this gift?” During a Why Gifts Matter podcast I did with Peter Block and John McKnight last month, I heard Peter say, “Gifts are a portal to our commitment.” Our gifts want us to notice their shadow sides, so we can prosper and learn from these challenges and fend off future shadows that would diminish the gifted power we have in these and other times.
As we rise up and face tomorrow, our gifts offer us the opportunity to confront a virus witha virus. Gifts are naturally viral. When we give our gifts, it causes others to give their gifts. Together, we create a common gifted path. Far from a tidy philosophical or “too good to be true” phenomenon, we are all seeing right now the viral gifts of neighbors, coworkers, and friends rising up to meet the challenges and opportunities we are facing today. Just remember: The story of our gifts will prevail.
See also this video by Malidoma Patrice Somé explaining an African Indigenous perspective of gifts and crises: