It’s one of those interview questions that you always prepare for: What are your strengths and weaknesses? We can usually quickly identify one or the other, and depending on who is asking and how much you’re trying to impress them, try to disguise weaknesses as strengths. For example: “I am a hard worker, I enjoy challenges, and I am rather meticulous. On the other hand, sometimes I put too much heart into my work and am too much of a perfectionist.” We want everything to be strengths, and we want them to be counted as ours. It won’t help me terribly much in a job interview if I talk about how my sister, who is not going to be doing my job for me, is very organized and a good leader. Those are strengths, but they’re not counted as mine.
The trouble comes when we’re asked to give up those strengths. I thought I had already done this- I have talked often about finding my identity first and foremost in Christ, and not in any of the adjectives that fall before my belonging to Him. I’d rather proclaim myself as a female, grad-student, book-loving Christian than a Christian girl, Christian grad student, or Christian book-lover. A good test of whether you hold onto something perhaps a bit too tightly is how upset you are when someone tries to take it from you. If someone marched up to me and said, “Marissa, you are NO GOOD at aerospace engineering,” I would not be much offended. I don’t claim that even slightly and am quite happy sitting back and watching other people be amazing at it instead. If someone said something like “Marissa, you are a TERRIBLE writer,” things might start to crumble a little more. Even worse, “Marissa, you are NOT good at school.” This would be a bit of a blow.
This is incredibly nerdy, but I claim academics as mine. By the time I’m through with this Ph.D. program, I’ll have spent more than two decades as a student, and loving a good bit of it! I am someone who fought for five more rigorous years of school. I enjoy doing literature reviews and fixing grammar mistakes. A love of learning is something that I’m pretty sure I was born with, that my parents worked to nourish (we spent lots of time at the library), and that I at some point subconsciously claimed as mine. In Philippians 3, Paul lists off a bunch of things that would be really impressive to his readers: “circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” My equivalent of this list would be a bunch of nerdy things about school. But after Paul gives his list, he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
A lot of good things (maybe not so much the whole persecuting the church situation, but the redirection of the zeal behind that, perhaps!) and productive things came out of Paul’s list, but that is not where he finds his value. Not only that, but he finds worth instead in knowing Christ as his Lord. He counted his earthly gain as loss “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes form the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.”
As Switchfoot (a band which, through how much I have referenced them on this blog, I have realized is one of my top three favorite bands) says in their song “Hello Hurricane,”
“Everything I have I count as loss
Everything I have is stripped away
Before I started building, I counted up these costs
As nothing left for you to take away.”
If someone tells me that anything other than Christ that I value is flawed, it shouldn’t shake me to my core. I might want to put some effort into improving it for His glory, but that’s just it- it should be for His glory, not mine. Honestly, when I start to feel like I’m not doing as well as I think I can or should in school, I don’t think, “Man, I am really not giving this my greatest effort and making the most of this opportunity to glorify God!” It’s something more like, “I am so much better than this, and it’s not being recognized. If I’m not good at this this, what am I?!” followed by some panicked pacing. This extends beyond my nerdiness and might apply to others in different ways- perhaps in wanting to be a good (or the best) friend, parent, spouse, runner, aerospace engineer, baker, employee, or any number of things.
God is constantly needing to forgive and reshape me in this. He sent His Son to earth so that we could have a personal relationship in which I am forgiven for all of my brokenness and to be able to strive toward the true perfection that I will never reach on my own. Even if I somehow became the perfect student- by whose standards am I perfect? From what I’ve gathered, God is the only perfect one, so if I’m going by someone else’s imperfect standards, I haven’t really worked toward anything worthwhile. (Note: C.S. Lewis does a beautiful breakdown of differing moral codes/the whole idea of “right and wrong” and why God’s is logically the “right” one. As he does this over the course of a great many pages in Mere Christianity, so I’ll just refer you to that incredible book. I think Lewis is a great writer. This is somewhat useless in the grand scheme of things unless the Greatest Writer agrees with me. See my carrying on above.)
I am so glad that God has given me relative strengths. I am better at spending my spare time reading than I am at playing video games (I’m quite bad at anything that doesn’t involve dancing). I am better at singing music than I am at writing it. This is only the case because God has been so gracious as to give me skills in these areas. They certainly contribute to my personality, but they do not define me at my core. The God who loves me more than any human being, including myself, has defined me. He has called me His. Everything I am needs to be built on that foundation. He’s not going anywhere, so there is nothing left for you to take away.
I’m praying that God will use whatever He gives me, whether it be a love of learning, a love of people, or a skill in any area, and that He will use it for His eternal glory, not my fading glory. I also ever so tentatively lift up my crumbly definitions of myself and ask that He would replace them with His perfect one that opens me up to so much more.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” even regarding my schoolwork, my relationships, and my sub-par very best in everything, “according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, emphasis added.)