This is a guest post from Shereen Marcus - a wife and a mother of two adorably rambunctious boys. Shereen is a proud member of St. Timothy & St. Athanasius church in Arlington, VA. Here Shereen writes about her takeaway from the recent MOMENTUM conference sponsored by The Hope Association. And if you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
It seems to me that we all have a natural desire to discover what makes us unique. To discover the strengths God uniquely knit into our DNA fabric…and, most importantly, how to use them … hopefully, for God’s glory. A few months back, I attended a conference done by The Hope Association entitled: “MOMENTUM” with the goal to do just that. Since the conference, people have been talking about how they’ve been inspired by the God-given spiritual talents and gifts revealed to them at this conference.
My story is different. God has always given me a strong awareness of my strengths. In fact, for years now, I have been trying to use them for God’s glory, but failing at it…miserably failing at it!
What I learned at Momentum was not about the strengths God gave me, but about the weaknesses He wanted to reveal to me – weaknesses that actively prevent me from fulfilling God’s plan.
We did an exercise on spiritual gifts where we answered 80 questions and then were told about our spiritual strengths…and our weaknesses. You could score anywhere from 5 (lowest) to 25 (highest) on any one particular trait. I can’t say any of the results surprised me, but one result in particular convicted me in a way I was not expecting. I scored a 6 (a SIX!) for “Mercy.” Practically the lowest score you could possibly get…that’s not good, is it?
I’ve always been a no-nonsense and straight-to-the-point person. But…isn’t that what made me absolutely adorable?? Isn’t that why I’m special? Unique? Even loved? God revealed to me an entirely different message: NO! That is what makes you FLAWED.
Yes people tried to tell me that it’s ok because I have strengths in other categories… but the truth is: it’s not ok. I don’t have to score a “25” for Mercy, but for a Christian who aims to be more Christ-like, “Mercy” is a pre-requisite. It became clear to me that this is why I came to the conference. God wanted to reveal to me a stumbling block that has prevented me from truly following His plan.
In the Bible, Jonah was a no-nonsense person who could not bear the thought of anything less than justice. We all know the story: God told Jonah to deliver a message to Ninevah that “…their wickedness has come up before [God],” but instead Jonah ran away. He eventually obeyed God - a few nights inside a whale's stomach will do that to you - and delivered the message to the Ninevites. Even so, and even after personally experiencing God’s mercy in the belly of a whale, he could not accept God’s mercy over the Ninevites.
The most telling part of the story is when Jonah reveals why he ran away in the first place. In Jonah 1:2, all God told him was to deliver a message that Ninevah’s wickedness was displeasing to God. It appears the message was one of truth. Jonah knew better though and that is why he ran away. Jonah fled to Tarshish because “I know that you are a gracious and merciful God….” (Jonah 4:2).
In other words, Jonah did not run away because he was afraid of delivering a message of Truth, Jonah ran away because he believed that God’s character of Mercy was going to interfere with justice. He wanted the Ninevites punished-- they did not deserve mercy, they were bad people.
God, however, stands for truth, but with a huge capacity for mercy. Fr. Anthony said it best when he said, “Christ is where Mercy and Truth come together.”
Christ’s living example gives me hope that Mercy and Truth are not mutually exclusive, nor were they ever meant to be.
The hope I see in the story of Jonah is that God chose him to do something so out of his character. Jonah was chosen to deliver a message of truth and mercy. God could have chosen any other prophet with a natural gift of mercy, but He chose Jonah – so that his weakness could be perfected by God’s strength.
Here’s the thing, I’m all about people serving God using their God given talents, but sometimes…sometimes, it is the weakness inside of you that reminds you your works are not yours at all, but God working through you. I don’t know what is in store for me, but I can guarantee that if it requires a large dose of mercy, it will clearly not be by my doing (I mean, I scored a SIX!). And perhaps that is the point altogether.
Question for discussion: how might understanding your own weakness help you in your pursuit of a God-pleasing life?