Taming your strength that is in overdrive
A few years ago, I heard my kids imitating me to their cousins. Apparently, my most common ‘mom’ phrase is, “Girls, we are going to turn over a new leaf!” Which was then energetically followed with a newly revised plan of action for chores, homework, laundry, family devotions, or whatever else was running awry in our home.
In my defense, at least a third of those brilliant plans worked for at least a few months. And some of them actually gave enough of a trajectory to raise three decent kids.
But the truth is, I like figuring a plan of action. I like fresh starts. I like to identity what is broken in a system and figure out how to fix it. And I like to set goals. So although it may seem odd, New Year’s resolutions are fun for me.
And why am I writing about this in early February, instead on January 1st? Because I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions this year. I’m in the middle of learning a new way of relating to the piece of myself that measures everything in terms of goals, efficiency, productivity, and strategic value.
In some ways, I have become a slave to one of my own strengths– the “strategic achiever.” This is the part of me which has a very loud and critical voice every evening when I evaluate how much I got done that day. This is the part of me which will value answering emails over sitting down to listen to my daughter tell about a new musical she has discovered. And though I like to think I don’t project those standards on others, I respect, admire and value people who are movers and shakers much more highly than the moved and the shaken (as my friend John Hayes would call them).
Unfortunately, we are all prone to have pieces of our gifting that overextends its intended purpose.
Imagine a young, powerful draft horse. Draft horses are used in agriculture for hauling and plowing. Their massive, muscular bodies are what enable them to pull 10-25 tons of cargo. When these horses are untamed and unbridled, however, they are actually quite dangerous. Weighing over a thousand pounds, their size and strength can unintentionally crush anything which happens to be in their path. And when they are spooked or angry, their thrashing can cause great injury to themselves and others.
Unbridled strengths tend to get us in trouble. Periodically they will need to be checked and retrained to be brought back to a place of better serving us (and God).
How do you know when your strength needs to be harnessed?
When your strength has begun to control your life, instead of you controlling your strength. You are designed to be able to excercise your strengths powerfully when needed, and withhold that strength when it is unhelpful or damaging to yourself or others.
Pay attention to the places of your gifting that you have trouble switching off: The organizer who becomes obsessive compulsive. The laid back personality who sinks into passivity. The hilarious friend who uses humor to tear down or to hide. The compassionate soul who is sucked into unhealthy relationships. The amazing gift giver who goes into debt every Christmas from overspending. The truth-teller who completely loses sight of grace.
Many of our strongest traits can easily cross over into something that dominates our lives. Taming that strength will in some ways feel like asking you to deny a piece of yourself. Which in some ways is true — at least initially, until that strength learns to be surrendered to the Master.
When you are disempowering others around you. Your strength is just one of many gifts brought to the table of marriage, team, or community. No strength is designed to completely dominate — not even the gift of leadership. As others around us are growing into their gifts, whether they are the same or different as ours, our strength may need to be turned down a notch.
A friend of mine has incredibly strong discernment and wisdom gifts. Her husband, who was younger in his faith early in their marriage, often felt intimidated by her knowledge and experience. For a season, God called her to bridle her discernment gifting–or at least the outward expression of that gift to allow her husband space to grow. She listened more and asked questions, helping her husband to identify God’s voice for himself. Over time, he discovered a discernment gifting as well, though it is expressed very differently than hers. Now their strong gifts are working much better in tandem, one is not overpowering the other.
When you hide behind that strength when others try to speak into it. Often others will begin to give us feedback when our strength is overextending it’s healthy boundaries. Instead of moving to address it, we avoid by blaming it on a personality trait. We may say “I’m just a Type A person” to excuse our controlling behavior. Or “I just operate from my head, not my emotions” when someone is confronting us on our emotional distance. Or “I’m just a free spirit” to excuse our inability to hold to our commitments. Beware of hiding behind a personality or style label to avoid addressing your undisciplined strength.
So how do we learn to bridle our strengths?
Over the years, my “strategic achiever” self has gone through stages of refining. Early stages of motherhood first loosened the strong grip of my own agenda for the day. Later, extended health issues forced me to release my standards of productivity. But along the way there was counseling, healing prayer, accountability– all different steps to get at the things underneath that make me prone to striving.
This year, I felt my invitation was to NOT make New year’s resolutions. Well, I actually couldn’t go THAT far. But I’m assuming a completely different posture… my goal is to “embrace the way of love.”
As I sat in 1 Corinthians 13 on New Year’s Day, I was struck by how insignificant all my striving, productivity, and achievements would be without love.
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
1 Corinthians 13:1:1-7 (the Message)
It’s pretty sobering to think that I could achieve every goal I ever set, do incredible ministry bathed in God’s power, and even give my life for Jesus, and it all would mean nothing without love. Love must be pretty important.
The goal-setting, achiever in me is being bridled again for a season. I’m attempting to view my days first through the lens of love, rather than the lens of productivity. So when a relationship needs to take precedence over my to do list, I go there without the usual resentment of the interruption. This doesn’t mean I am not getting things done; ironically, I’ve been fairly productive in January. But I’m starting from a different place. And I find that I’m reaching the end of the week less discouraged over what didn’t get done, and more filled with wonder and love for the people I sat with this week.
Say a prayer for me this year as I ‘turn over a new leaf.’ 🙂
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13