Grey tarmac with spray-painted stencilling that says in block capitals DON'T WASTE YOUR TALENT. Text over the top: The fear that I will waste my talents.

The fear that I will waste my talents

The creative juices are dry, so I’m writing about my fears instead. In today’s post, I realise that I don’t fear God’s judgement, but I do fear his generosity.

‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 

Matthew 7:9–11 (NIVUK)

For the record, the word “talent” used to be a measure of weight. It’s only because of Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30 that the word has come to mean natural aptitude or skill. The implication is that, if the master in the parable is symbolic of God, then God has given each of us natural abilities in unequal measure — and he expects us to maximise them.

One obvious flaw in this interpretation is that the master gives out the talents in proportion to ability. This alone suggests that the talents do not represent ability, but something else. Opportunity? 

There are also those who say that this parable has nothing to do with God. Matthew doesn’t actually say that this parable describes the kingdom of heaven. Instead we infer this from the preceding parable (which is about the kingdom of heaven) and from how he then says, “Again, it will be like…” 

And I suppose it is easier to reconcile the master’s harsh treatment of the third servant if the master is not meant to represent God. 

For myself, the end of this parable never bothered me. Sure, I preferred the one with the minas in Luke 19:11–27. There, each of the 10 servants receives an equal amount of money, the rewards are in proportion to both the absolute and percentage gains (not just the absolute gains), the servant who buries his mina has it taken from him but doesn’t get cast out, and the real anger is directed towards the servants who actively betrayed their master.

Yes, I also get that both parables are set in the context of slavery (as many of Jesus’ parables are) and slavery is not cool, but even with that, I don’t believe these parables are the origin of my fear.

God’s sovereignty and judgment don’t frighten me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe the author of Hebrews was on the money when they wrote, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31, NIVUK) God is more than capable of leaving me quaking in my boots and, frankly, I’m not interested in a God who couldn’t. But no, I’m not frightened by the thought of a dynamic with him that could be legitimately analogised to a master/slave relationship or that involves a day of reckoning.

I guess the gospel message really sank in? Or maybe I think of it as like doing a worthwhile job for a good employer, and deep down I like the thought of doing my job well and I believe I can? Either way, it’s not a bad headspace to live in.

No, my fear is not that I will waste my ability, it’s that I will waste my privilege. Natural ability is tied up in that, because to an extent, ability is a privilege. But privilege is also about educational opportunities, unearned assets, attractiveness and social connections. 

The stories that haunt me are the stories of privileged children who either don’t know what they have while they have it, or who know and don’t care. 

And the worst part is that somewhere in the background there’s an open tap of generosity where God keeps on giving. I don’t know what to do with it and I don’t know what he expects me to do with it. And it terrifies me.

Anyone reading this might be surprised because it doesn’t make sense to be afraid of something good. As for myself, I don’t think I had realized this was the issue, but it probably is because I just spent the last 20 minutes crying about it. 

Cathartically, one hopes.

On some level, I believe I will be a terrible steward of God’s treasures. I’m afraid because there are too many for me to maximise and multiply. The best I can hope for is to preserve them (bury them?) and hope they don’t decay or degrade. (Though of course, any gifts associated with my body inevitably will.) 

In this mindset, success is just as terrifying as failure. Because if I succeed, the goalposts move and then I have to build on my success. There’s even a case for saying that my greatest sources of shame are my past successes – because I haven’t done more with them. 

But where did this idea come from that God’s gifts have to be maximised? The talents in the parable were not gifts, and the servants were not children or heirs. And as parents go, it’s not as if God is strapped for cash.

I wonder if my problem is the intersection of two mindsets. On the one hand I value gifts, therefore with each gift comes the duty to honour it. And on the other hand, I carry the assumption of scarcity, so good things must not be wasted (especially when so many other people don’t have them). Both ideas create burdens.

Again, I don’t know what the answer is. I can see the absurdity in this fear and yet I find it very hard to shake. I’ve heard Christians say that we should hand our burdens over to God. I don’t disagree, I’m just not sure how. I’ve tried (probably for too long) to think of a better way to end this post, but haven’t come up with anything. 

THAT SAID…

If you want to hear something amazing that talks about identity and fear and Jesus and has some pretty wild anecdotes, I cannot recommend enough this podcast episode with Jamie Winship. He’s worked as a peacemaker in high conflict areas and has brought terrorists to encounters with Christ. It’s 1hr:20m with an advert at the beginning. Don’t let either put you off. Though if you don’t like listening to audio, click the link anyway and follow the links to his book.


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Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

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