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October 20, 2016

Focusing on Your Strengths

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. 

-Judy Garland 

In his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes, "God will never ask you to dedicate your life to a task you have no talent for. On the other hand, the abilities you do have are a strong indication of what God wants you to do with your life."

So, sister, what are you good at?

Most of us spend far more time focused on what we're not good at rather than what we are good at. But human resource professionals tell us that the greatest opportunity for personal growth and development come from focusing on our strengths, not our weaknesses. This is counter to the message that corporate America habitually sends to its employees. In job evaluations, managers often spend more time pointing out employee weaknesses than building on strengths. And when setting goals, managers frequently ask employees to become better at what they are not naturally good at rather than asking them to focus on their strengths and capitalizing on them for the benefit of the company.

We all have a choice. We can focus on what we're not good at, or we can focus on what we are good at. Extraordinary women focus on what they are good at and use their gifts to further God’s kingdom.

Extraordinary women also use their strengths in little things to make a big difference.

Mother Teresa knew that caring for the sick and poor one person at a time would make a big difference for each person she cared for. She didn't know that her compassion would make a big impression on the larger world as well.

You may not have heard of Genevieve Piturro. She was heartbroken as a volunteer at children's shelters when she realized that the kids slept in the same clothes they'd worn all day. Remembering the warm comfort of her own pajamas as a child, Piturro started purchasing PJs and taking them to children's centers. In 2001, when the demand for pajamas grew beyond her own ability to meet it, she started the Pajama Program. Since then, more than 10,000 pairs of pajamas and over 8,000 books have found children to wear and read them—and thousands of children have learned that though they are parentless or in difficult circumstances, someone still cares. (To learn more or to donate to the Pajama Program, visit pajamaprogram.org.)

When Kim Newlen left her teaching job to stay home with her daughter, she experienced loneliness. Instead of wallowing in it, she decided to do something about it. She created a monthly gathering for women that didn't require them to send an RSVP or extend a reciprocal invitation. The gatherings, called Sweet Monday, offer brief spiritual encouragement, food, and most importantly, fun! Ten years after the first group met, Sweet Mondays are providing even more opportunities for fellowship as women across the country have adapted the idea. Because of this ministry, many women who stopped going to church have returned, and others who did not know Christ have made a commitment to Him. Kim, the lonely mom, has now turned into an encourager extraordinaire and has written Sweet Monday: Women's Socials on a Shoestring. (You can learn more about Sweet Monday at sweetmonday.org.)

Each of these women began her journey by meeting her own needs and the needs of others. God took it from there in ways that they could not anticipate.

One of my strengths is that I'm organized. I always have a plan and can handle details and deadlines. When I'm going somewhere, I have a complete itinerary (and usually printed directions from MapQuest!). I live by lists and read the directions when I'm doing something I've never done before. And then I actually follow them. This drives my husband, Tim, crazy.

I can either focus on my strengths and use them for service to God and others, or I can berate myself for my weaknesses. The first option is positive and empowering. The second option would simply make me feel bad about myself and not help me accomplish anything—except feeling bad.

Most of us can quickly come up with a list of weaknesses. But can you easily articulate your strengths as well? If not, take a look at the following list and circle or highlight any of the words that describe your strengths:

• flexible
• motivating
• risk taker
• supportive
• systematic
• analyzer
• intuitive
• assertive
• outgoing
• sensitive
• deliberate
• confident
• generous
• cooperative
• decisive
• loyal
• patient
• diplomatic
• enthusiastic
• influential
• optimistic
• organized
• visionary
• problem solver
• reliable
• determined
• results-oriented
• peacemaker
• questioner
• team player
• fact finder
• orderly
• cautious

This list isn't all-inclusive, but it's a good place to start identifying and verbalizing your strengths. Once you're able to do that, you're ready to move to the next step, which is to make a specific list of ways you can use these strengths.

"God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 MSG).

Mother Teresa used the gift of mercy on the poor and sick. Genevieve Piturro used the gift of contributing pajamas to children. And Kim Newlen used the gift of connecting women in her living room.

What have you been given to do that shows who God is? Serve on the governing board at your church? Help at your local food pantry? Organize a fundraiser to support missionaries? Handle the finances of a charity? Teach Sunday School? Attend Sunday School? Help build sets for the annual Christmas drama at your church? Lead a music team? Make hospital visits? Provide transportation to and from church for those who can’t drive? The possibilities are endless.

Here's what else is endless: the ability of God to reach down from heaven and show himself to other people through you. You are Christ on earth every day to the people around you. And when you focus on using your strengths to show Christ and refuse to wallow in your weaknesses, your light will shine brighter, and your reach will extend further than you ever imagined.

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