Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 17-18
This very day you are ready to rescue from this fearsome abyss any soul that searches for you, any man who says from the depths of his heart, I have eyes only for you; I long Lord, for your presence. -Confessions I.18
We all have gifts. Some of us are writers. Others are singers. Still others are skilled at working with people, while others have an innate ability to solve complex mathematical problems. Some peoples’ gifts reside in the area of interpersonal relations, others are gifted academics, and still others have gifts in their spiritual life and practice. We have all met people with an abundance of gifts, and yet we often overlook our own. We all, however, have our own special unique gifts, given to us by God. How do we use those gifts though?
If I was pressed to give an answer, I would probably consider one of my own gifts being
that of writing. I don’t have any great talent in it, but I enjoy it and it brings contentment, whether I am writing in my own journal, working on an academic paper, or crafting a letter to a close friend. But like most of us who are struggling on this path of holiness, seeking to grow closer to Him, there have certainly been times when I haven’t cherished this gift as I should.
One example comes from my pre-conversion days in high school. I was in the library at lunch with my then-girlfriend and we weren’t doing anything in particular, just hanging out. I then remembered that I had a paper due in English the very next period. I immediately went over to the computer and started typing away. My girlfriend was a bit incredulous I suppose, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I then continued on, finishing up the paper just as the bell was ringing. I looked it over once, corrected a couple of things, and prepared to turn it in.
I got an A on the assignment. In fact, it was one of the few I actually turned in – I wasn’t the best student in high school.
My girlfriend was upset and gave me a bad time about the assignment – I basically just popped the paper out right there without really spending time on it.. What’s worse is that I knew I would get an A on it. I don’t even remember what the topic of the paper was, but boy was I arrogant and prideful!
Saint Augustine experiences the same sort of pride in his childhood too: “Let me tell you, my God, how I squandered the brains you gave me on foolish delusions” (I.17). Now granted, the great saint was a much better student than I was, but he still experienced the same issue, an issue that I experienced and that we all experience at one time or another: he was “so much smoke without the fire” (I.17), squandering his gifts, rather than using them to give glory to the Lord.
So what are we to do with these gifts? How do we keep from letting them fall to the wayside, or worse yet, how do we keep from using them for unworthy purposes? After all, too often in our world, we are taught to “get ahead” and “be successful.” This is usually done when we utilize one or another of the gifts God has given us. Why not turn the focus from ourselves and towards God? This doesn’t necessarily mean that every other word out of your mouth has to be religious; it just means that everything we say and do can be oriented toward His glory, whether implicitly or explicitly, so that we do not “waste in dissipation all the wealth” which the Father has given us. This orientation toward the Lord can be as simple as saying a short prayer before undertaking a task, or as involved as explicitly reflecting on how our actions serve the Lord and serve others. Remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So whether your are a singer or a teacher, an administrator or a writer, an astronomer or a florist, a business executive or a stay at home parent, seek out how you can use your gifts to glorify Him.
As Augustine notes in this week’s reading, the Father, the one who gave us these gifts, is there waiting for us, just as the father of the prodigal son waited. All we have to do is turn around and return to Him.
Questions for Reflection:
- What gifts has God given me whether material, intellectual, relational, or spiritual?
- How can I better utilize those gifts to serve Him and those people around me?
This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.