“Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”

“No. You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about the light.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Making your way in the world with the interests, passions and talents that one has can be a fairly confusing path. For me, trying to use those things for making a living, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and really thriving has been a challenge. Even with niche interests I could still go dozens of directions with them.

Sort of a staggering step; that first one away from home. I think that was the case for me because at least on the first few steps I felt like I had to do it alone. No one would be coming with me on the journey, nor should I ask them to. And while the thought of being a roaring success as soon as I got out on my own seemed romantic, reality kind of gave me a boot in the pants.

In North America, it’s part of our culture to strive for independence; to be self-reliant and stand on our own two feet. To an extent, that’s a good thing. To be truly independent, by definition, is: to be free from outside control; not depending on another person’s authority, or not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence. On the surface this seems pretty appealing; to be free from all control or reliance on anyone or anything but yourself. It doesn’t take long to see how far we are from the definition. For example: if you’re an employee, you’re dependent on your employer for your paycheck. On the other hand if you’re an employer, you’re dependent on customers for their business and on your staff to provide quality service to bring those customers back. Dependence is not just limited to our job, though. It’s present everywhere, from family to government, with no one being 100% self-reliant. Our desire for independence, while understandable, is unattainable, because we are inherently interdependent beings.

After realizing interdependence was normal, I was able to see community as the gift that it is. I was glad to find that community is not an admission of failure. Rather, it is a deep knowing that we each have something important to lend to another, creating relationships which challenge, support, and develop us individually, and as a whole.

Regardless of our culture or zeitgeist one of the deepest needs we will always have, is to know and be known by others.

While I don’t want to be completely independent of others, I know that I want to be distinct in whatever group I’m a part of. We’re all gifted in ways that are unique to us. Some are musicians, some are writers, some are orators, some are photographers, etc. Even within a specific medium there is a lot of variation and individuality between artists.

What struck me about the words of C.S. Lewis quoted above, was how it shows the divergence between secular worldview, and Christian worldview on how our personal talents are to be used. Specifically how our gifts are to be used in how we connect to people.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a series of interviews between those who are already citizens of Heaven, and those who have arrived from Purgatory, or, Hell. These interviews are meant to illustrate things people can’t bear to part with; even to the point of rejecting heaven altogether. In this story, the painter can’t bear to part with is his craft. In fact he’s so obsessed with it that it dictates how he sees the country he’s in. The enjoyment in it is lost on him because he can only think of the country as a means to further his art. The Spirit (Citizen of Heaven) tries to correct him by explaining that the man’s talent was not where the focus ought to be but on the country itself. The Light was his first love but the painter became so focused in how he was depicting it, that the painting itself became his primary focus. He cared more about how he portrayed Heaven, than on the glory of seeing and actually being there.

Lewis uses this scene to show us that our talents are given to us for two beautiful and complementary reasons.

  1. God loves you in a perfect and personal way. He gives you a gift that is completely unique to you because you are special to Him; he wants to communicate with you in the way that is clearest and most meaningful to you.
  2. Our gifts are just the beginning. See, the things that make us unique are also the things that make us valuable in community. 1 Cor. 13:9 says “For we only know in part and prophesy in part” which is to say that, while we are here on earth, He doesn’t reveal everything about Himself to us. He reveals parts of who He is through the things He’s gifted us in. God’s character is like a perfectly cut and many faceted diamond. Every way you look at it reveals more of it’s beauty. There’s a limit to our point of view, though. We can only see it from one angle, but we see that facet of it more clearly than others and He has blessed you with a special platform from which to make that aspect known to others.

This means that we have to acknowledge our own blind spots; He speaks in deep and special ways to others just as He does to us. We have to be humble to listen to His voice, and perhaps even more so to accept that He speaks to us through others as well.

The more obvious form of humility is to listen intently to both what God speaks to us in private and what He speaks to us through others. The second, and more subtle form of it, is to trust that if He pours truth into your life it is not going to be purely situational or for your sole benefit. He will reveal general truths about who He is as well. And in humility He requires boldness to tell others about them.

The reason Jesus came was to restore our relationship with God the Father. Christ’s death and resurrection were the means of doing that. Jesus showed Himself, in His life with us, that He is a relational God and Savior. Therefore our gifts are always going to have a relational application; and not just relating to Him, but with everyone He’s put in our lives.

Hebrews says “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another.” This is a good reminder to not become tunnel visioned regarding what we can do with our abilities, but rather connect in community to see the greater vision as a whole. Our talents are given to us for a far greater purpose than what we do for a living, they were created to become the very picture of heaven to those we encounter or create community with. Our Father has entrusted us with these gifts to be living examples of the fullness of the love He has for us. And in that, we will always be growing.