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  • Aileen McKernan

A Twist on Talents

“Wait, how long is it since you played with us?” one of my old soccer teammates asked me.

“I think it’s been like six years,” I replied trying to do the mental math in my head. I just turned 38 and I met these guys, the Honey Badgers 1.0 in my early 30’s. At that time I was playing soccer 3 to 4 times a week. And although I was the fastest and lightest I have ever been, back then I battled many musculoskeletal imbalances that made me susceptible to injuries and major discomfort between scrimmages and games.

“Well, not much has changed!” exclaimed good natured Sam, another one of the originals.

Not much has changed, I marveled and chewed on his statement all week. So much has changed physically, mentally and emotionally, and spiritually and yet I knew he was referring to my ability to play at a high level with the guys and my tough and tumble no holds barred attitude. He doesn’t know the journey of the last 6 years or the many lessons I learned along the way. But he was commenting about something he saw.

He saw talent. I saw the fruit of God’s grace to play and enjoy this sport. And I got to thinking about this journey to where I am. You know, I never considered myself much of an athlete. Sure, I had spunk and sass and didn’t like to lose, (the killer bee gene my dad calls it but while he ribs me, I know it came from him and the McKernans) but I wasn’t really a stand out.

I didn’t have the speed and skill of my sister, Heather; the grace and coordination of my brother Kevin, nor the stalwart strength and steadfastness of my brother Mike. I had determination and just average ability. I didn’t invest in my talent beyond season to season because I believed my future was not in professional sports but as a Physical Therapist. I invested in myself academically preparing for a career. I didn’t play soccer between the ages of 18 and 30!

So how did I get from there, of average ability, height, not a college player, to here, being nearly 40 and playing arguably the best game of my life – with muscle imbalances resolved, with mental garbage gone, with peace and joy and hanging in shot for shot, pass for pass, play for play with the guys?

Rewind to what I said earlier, when I was in my early 30’s I was playing soccer 3 to 4 times a week. And I wasn’t just playing soccer, I was playing with men who were all better, faster, and stronger than me. Evening in and evening out in scrimmages, on Saturday games, Sunday games, and any other day of the week they happened to be on, on turf, grass, and gym floors, in the sun, in the heat, in humidity, in the rain, in the freezing cold, I was constantly challenged to raise my game to another level.

I don’t know when I got good. It just happened as a result of playing with people better than me. I noticed when I played with the women in the women’s league I stood out. Many thought I played D1 soccer in college and a semi-pro friend told me I was of Olympic caliber. I am not boasting! Remember I said I always thought I was average ability. It really shocked me, that comment. It shocks me as much as my ability to still play well today.

I attribute 100% of my ability to God’s grace and yet I know that if I didn’t show up and play I wouldn’t have become the player I am today, right?

Do you know the parable of talents (Matthew 25)? A rich master goes away and entrusts his servants with different amounts of talents (unit of money) and expects them to steward it wisely while he is away. Both the first and second man double their talents and are rewarded richly by their master who is pleased to get more back then what he gave them. The third man is afraid of his master’s reaction if he doesn’t produce anything with the talents. He becomes paralyzed by fear, hides the money and thus only returns exactly what the master gave him. When the ruler returns, that servant is scolded and cast out into darkness. So often we’ve all heard that the moral of this parable is that God gives and we have a responsibility to receive it, be responsible for it, and return back more than what He gave.

God gave me an athletic bent, an attitude, and opportunity to maximize the gift He gave me. The deciding factor wasn’t my investment or effort though. Yes, I showed up, but it was the people that surrounded me. Faster. Stronger. Better. They inspired me not to work harder or be better, but to play with them. If it weren’t for being constantly challenged, no fruit in my game would be had. If I showed up at the field and dribbled the ball by myself and took shots by myself, my game would absolutely not have changed one bit. It took the sharpening of others, of circumstance, of situation, to refine and reform my game, my body, my attitude to become the player I am today.

And it took the sharpening of the Lord, of situation and of circumstance the past 6 years to lose the other baggage that made me a liability on the field and not an asset. He gives and He prunes the branches that don’t bear fruit to maximize the harvest (John 15). Yes, we show up, but our showing up isn’t so much so we can do the work. I didn’t work at being better per se. I showed up and my showing up was equivalent to a Yes to process. It reminds me of Isaiah in Isaiah 6. Isaiah is in the temple of the Lord and the Lord Himself asks Isaiah, who will I send? And Isaiah although he feels completely disqualified replies, Here I am send me.

And I think that’s where we get twisted and stuck sometimes, thinking that we have to figure this thing out on our own and do the work ourselves. So when we get tired of working at it, we quit, or when we get discouraged because of the obstacles, we don’t even start. But that’s not what the parable of the talents is about. The moral isn’t about the receivers so much as the giver.

The first two knew the giver and yielded to His process. The third thought he knew the giver but didn’t. He was afraid and He did nothing. That is why the master chided Him. Because an unsure of yourself yes is better than an afraid of God no. Did you catch that? God isn’t waiting to throw the smack down on us because we’re not doing something good enough. His Holy Spirit is with us to lead, guide, teach, and grow us into the strongest trees in the forests. He is waiting for us to allow Him to do the work. To be a strong tree your roots have to be tested and your limbs have to be weathered. We’re called to bear fruit not to make it. Our Yes is all He needs to sharpen, shape, and transform us.

Just as there was a latent athletic talent in my life that didn’t bloom fully until I was older, I have a feeling that there are other areas in my life where He’s given me talents that may be dormant or not maximized. I want to show up and say Yes in those areas so He can take me through the process and the pressing to bring out the best oil. Oh Lord would you illuminate those for me that I would bear much fruit for your glory, that just as others marveled at the soccer talent they saw, many more would marvel at your glory for the things that last for all of eternity.

For further thought:

What talent do you have from God that you are sitting on? That you have potential to operate in a whole new dimension of excellence? Why haven’t you said yes yet? Are you willing to say Yes even if you're unsure of what that means? What people can you surround yourself with in this area who could sharpen and inspire you? What is one step you can take today to show up, to confirm your yes?

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