Recently I spoke to a group in south Minneapolis on the topic “Affirming Our Gifts.” Gifts, I suggested, are more than talents. Gifts include our passions, dreams, beliefs, values, wounds, strengths, limitations, energy, intuition, creativity, relationships, and hopes. The list could go on; all that we are and have experienced are gifts.
I asked participants to take a few moments to get in touch with their own giftedness and share a gift or two with the rest of the group. One participant shared her love of reading. After she reads a good book, she shares her recommendations with others. Another woman talked about the gift of encouragement, a gift she acquired when, at a difficult time in her life, she needed encouragement. Now she readily reaches out to encourage others.
Then one participant asked, “Do our gifts change as we get older?” She raised an interesting point, and after some discussion, the group and I concluded that yes, our gifts can—and do—change over time. As we age, we learn from life and acquire new gifts that were simply not available to us at a younger age. Then I thought: If we understood this, could it change the way we typically view aging? I think it can.
We usually think of aging as primarily—or only—a time of loss, and it is true that there are many losses that accompany aging. Some losses may not affect our lifestyles significantly; others are more serious, even heartbreaking. But are there gifts we own now that we didn’t have when we were younger? If so, might we perceive aging as not just loss but also gain?
So I was thinking: Suppose I take a piece of paper and set up two columns. The first column could be called “I could and now I can’t” and the second “I couldn’t and now I can.” In the first column I might write: I used to run eight miles. I used to have more energy. In the second column I might say: I have more appreciation for the beauty of nature. I’m a better listener.
Yes, I thought, our gifts change because we change. In fact, I like to think that we change into our most authentic selves, and as we grow, our vocation—the sharing of who we are—changes as well. I like the words of James and Evelyn Whitehead, who said that vocation “is who we are trying to happen.”
How long does it take “to happen”? I’m certain it’s a life-long journey.