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Use It or Lose It

Personal, Words

September 29, 2015

Passion, put to work, feeds the soul’s confidence. Confidence, when tapped into, fuels the soul’s desire. Passion that is not used can flicker and die, along with the very desire to engage in life itself.

Many of those who grew up with me know something about me that my new friends do not: I play piano. Or maybe I should say I used to play piano. It was a big part of my life from Elementary through High School.

I remember making the decision to start piano lessons after going with my friend, Alex Lee, to her lesson way back in 1st Grade. I’m not sure why I went to her lesson with her, but I came home wanting to take my own lessons. Being the ever supportive parents they are, my parents signed me up immediately and my musical career began. I was pretty decent for a kid learning her Hot Cross Buns, but I also loved my computer games and horses and a day came when I no longer wanted to put in the hours of practice that my teacher required of me. I decided to quit and my parents made me tell my teacher myself. She seemed very disappointed in me, but asked me to please come pick up Christmas music each year (my favorite). I came home feeling guilty and somehow came across the passage about talents in my Bible that evening.

In the story, a master gives three servants talents. To one, he gives five. To another, two. And to the last poor guy, he gives one. He leaves for a while and the first two servants use or invest their talents to double them. The last guy hides his single talent and returns it as is when the master returns.

“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

Now, I’m pretty sure my young child’s mind knew that the “talents” referenced in the story were actually coins, but my guilty heart clung to the lesson at the end. Use it or lose it. I just knew that if I didn’t use my piano skills, I would lose my ability to sing and ride horses and dance as well. So I called my teacher and told her I had made a mistake and I needed to continue lessons. That very night.

I continued these lessons all the way through high school, playing for church and in the jazz band at school, and they culminated in my Senior Recital. An entire hour of me, alone on stage, playing piano for all of my friends and family. I practiced throughout the night for an entire year, hammering the same sonatas and arrangements into my blistered fingers until I knew them by heart. The recital came and went and I have not truly played piano since that day.

Because I had focused on the same ten or so songs for a year, I felt like I walked away from the recital, and lessons, with nowhere to go. I graduated and left for college, where the only piano I could access was smack in the middle of my dorm lobby. I quickly realized my style of playing, which was strictly reading music, was not useful in modern worship settings. I stopped telling people I played and I started singing instead.

There were a few times throughout college that I played for church, as a special, or held chords for BCM worship here and there. But I found that the less I performed, the less I practiced. And the less I practiced, the less confidence I had. The less confidence I had, the less I enjoyed playing, even alone where no one could hear me. Now, I only occasionally sit down to fumble through the same songs I’ve been playing since high school. Only when I’m alone and never with new music. The passion, confidence, and motivation is gone because I believed that my Senior recital was the pinnacle of that particular talent, and I stopped using it.

In a much more general sense, I’ve let myself believe that college was the pinnacle of my overall personal abilities. It makes sense. When you go to a huge school, you literally can’t avoid opportunities to serve and lead and get involved in anything your heart desires. They’re shoved in your face in the form of tacky slips of paper every time you walk through the student center’s lawn. I attended and became deeply involved with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, which provided me opportunities to lead in small groups, missions coordinating, dance teams, theatre, worship, public relations, cross-country bike rides, just to name a few. It’s like someone took every interest, passion and ability I had and handed them to me on a silver platter, in one building, with one group of people.

I lived in a constant state of “go” and “full throttle” was the only gear I knew for four years. Because I said yes to every opportunity, my confidence was at an all-time high. Often times I would agree to lead or do things that I didn’t actually have the capacity to do, but I did anyway. I would venture to say this is the state that many college students live in and it’s a wonderful season of life that begs to be drunk from deeply.

It wasn’t until I left college that I began to see how much I had let my identity and self-worth become tied up in what I did or how much I could accomplish. To no one’s surprise, life after college is a different world. A world where you don’t get to find every single one of your interests and abilities tied up into one single ministry or organization. A world where you can’t assume your career and passion can easily be the same thing.

The constant state of “go” has become a constant state of “wait” and the idleness that I am experiencing as a result of that momentum change has caused me to suffer from an intense whiplash of self-identity and worth.

I’m waiting for insurance money to come in, so I can replace my camera and continue my passion of photography. I’m waiting to find out if that passion can really be my career. I’m waiting to decide on a church home so I can serve and get involved in my community. All of this waiting has tied me to my little apartment, trying to remember who I was and what I did before this season of life. Before my daily sense of accomplishment stems from whether or not I washed all the dishes that day or checked something off my business to-do list, a feat that no one but me would know or care about. When I get small opportunities to do something, I overthink them and doubt my ability, instead of saying “yes” and jumping in. I avoid people because I can’t brag about being busy and because I fear they will confuse my “self-employment” with “unemployment”. I feel like I have nothing to offer, because I’m offering nothing.

I would venture to guess this is a normal transition period for college grads, especially grads that choose to start businesses instead of joining them. I would also assume a season of idleness is normal for someone living in a new city, with no friends, church, or club to greet them. As much as I hate this transition period, I know that it is good and necessary for God to divorce my self-worth from what or how much I do. Once my identity is rooted solely in Him and who He has made me to be, I will be so much more effective in what I do. Now that I am seeing that, I know it is my responsibility to go find people and places with needs that I am equipped to meet, because those people will not be knocking on my door any time soon.

Friends, if you’re in the same funk I am, snap out of it. If you wait around, hoping someone will approach you at the grocery store and give you the chance to use your passions and talents, the very desire to do so will eventually flicker and die. Ask yourself what it is you’re capable of and want to be doing and then ask yourself what is stopping you.

“For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

-2 Timothy 1:6-7

You are talented, passionate, capable of great things. Use it.

Love, Jenna

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