“You know, I really don’t like it when they use the word ‘prodigy,’” my 15-year-old said, just out of the blue, one afternoon.
He had been watching a news story about a young boy who had uncanny technical skills. “People were calling him a genius and trying to bring him to America to study,” he explained, “but I think there was as much hard work as there was ‘native genius.’ I think we make too much of ‘giftedness’ sometimes.”
I thought he had a good point. There’s no question that God gives certain gifts and talents to people, from the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, to the ability to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). I have a son with a natural musical ability; another who is able to handle animals; one who has a scholarly bent. The Bible says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …” (James 1:17), and we can (and should) rejoice in the generosity of the Lord who gives His gifts to men.
But while we might enjoy God’s gifts to us, the Bible warns us to keep these things in perspective. A strong man may rejoice to run his race (Psalm 19:5), and that’s okay – he’s delighting in God’s gift to him–but he’s not allowed to boast about it.
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might, Nor let the rich [man] glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, that I [am] the LORD … ” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
That’s a problem we need to face: too often, we receive these gifts from God, then imagine that we somehow created them ourselves. Or we think we’ve identified the seeds of greatness in our children, and secretly whisper, “He got that from me.”
And that’s what my son was pointing out. On the one hand, a person with a real giftedness is simply enjoying the generosity and providence of God. “For who makes you differ [from another]?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 12:7). A true gift is not earned or deserved, so there’s no room to boast. All the glory is due to the person who gave the gift, not the one who received it!
On the other hand, too much focus on “genius” and “gifting” of this sort can also be an excuse for our own laziness. Maybe we look at an athlete’s form and say, “I could never be strong and graceful like him, because he has a natural athletic gift”-both of which may be true statements, by the way-and then we continue in our hearts to say, “and since I’m not a natural athlete, it’s no big deal that I’d rather sit on the couch than exercise my own non-gifted body.”
Or we look at the class leader and say, “He has an intuitive grasp of this subject; in short, he’s a genius. And since I’m no genius, I don’t need to feel uneasy that my failure to do the homework and my lack of study might have something to say about my disappointing grades.”
For that matter, the truly gifted person may be weak in crucial areas. I was proud as could be when I received an academic scholarship for the college I had chosen. Although I thought it was challenging at the time, looking back I realize I was able to breeze through many of my high school classes because I liked to read, I had a good memory, and I could write reasonably well. What I didn’t have were good study habits, or the self-discipline I would need to really excel in college. Oh, I was able to make it through the university with decent grades, but I realized before I left that some of my friends who weren’t as “brilliant” as I had once imagined I was were learning more-and scoring higher-because they took the talents they had and built on them, rather than relaxing in the head start they’d been given.
They knew how to work, and they knew it better than I did. Instead of the prodigy I had hoped I might be, I ended up feeling more like the prodigal who wasted many opportunities that had come to his hands.
So that’s the tricky balance I want to teach my sons: to rejoice in the gifts which God has given, to praise Him for His generosity rather than puffing themselves up with unrighteous pride. But while accepting the honest truth that they are good in one skill or another, I want them to see whatever gift God sent as their call to work just as hard as the next guy-or even harder–for God’s glory.