Christina’s hand rested on her belly. Just an hour before, it had been full with baby Ethan.
Now Ethan lay sleeping peacefully on the hospital bed beside her, swaddled in a light cotton receiving blanket. His shallow breaths caused an up-and-down movement of his perfect little chest, and his ruddy face seemed peaceful and full of promise.
Christina bent down to Ethan’s face. She closed her eyes, cheek to cheek with her son, and lost herself in thoughts of her new boy’s future. She dreamed of what every mother does — the best for her child, today, tomorrow and for the rest of his life. While she knew this child was a gift, she also thought of what gifts this child might possess himself — gifts that could be used for goodness and humanity, and ultimately, for the glory of God.
Someone once likened discovering a child’s unique gifts and talents to opening presents. This is a good analogy I think. The packaging of a present sometimes gives a clue as to what is inside — but not always.
Gifts are surprises. Sometimes they come in pieces that must be put together. Always they come with excitement and hope. Sometimes once they are unwrapped they are disappointing when one is expecting something else. Gifts are tokens of love and given freely. They demonstrate an appreciation and selflessness of the giver.
Likewise, a child’s particular gifts and talents are not always readily discerned. Sure, a language whiz may be reading at age 3 and a parent has a clue that communication might be a skill of hers. However, often an aptitude is not discovered immediately, but only after years of exposure to different activities in an unrushed, positive and supportive environment.
A little artist might be doing amazing sketches in the preschool years, but just as often it is not until much older that his talent becomes apparent, especially if he has been busy learning many other things.
Talents and aptitudes of our children can be surprises. If we and our spouses aren’t musically inclined we may be tickled, but amazed, to see when our offspring has an aptitude for melody and rhythm. If the family is full of hot-tempered, impetuous people and then junior exhibits signs of deep pondering, calm and a naturally caring and nurturing demeanor, it can be very pleasant but shocking at the same time.
Sometimes the gifts of our children are like puzzles that must be put together. Only after years of exposure to a number of things do we see how the gift fits together.
For example, only in retrospect we may note the ingenuity of a child who spontaneously assembles a home-made burglar alarm by himself and later tells his parents it’s time for them to find him an audition for the theater, and link that with an aptitude for being a self-starter and creative thinker. It may only be after the “quilt has been sewn” that we see the pattern that has been quite evident all along on the other side.
Once in awhile, we are handed a gift and when we open it dare to think, “No thank you.” We know that the giver means well, but we just are not sure what we can do with such a gift. Likewise, sometimes we notice a propensity in our child that we do not like or do not understand. In these cases we need to be patient and seek to discover the value of the gift. God is the giver, and He does not make mistakes. It might take a long time to discover the value of a particular gift given to our child, but if we are faithful and continue trying, we will find that value.
During the time of struggling to accept a particular “gift,” it is helpful to remember that one’s weaknesses are often the inverses of one’s strengths. For example, a child with a sharp tongue often has a gift of language. Is he a budding writer perhaps? Properly channeled this gift can have positive profound influence.
Is the gift we do not want a handicap of some sort? Below-average intelligence or athletic aptitude? A learning disability? A disease? How can the Giver be so cruel as to bestow this on our little one? We ask.
But look again more closely. What often comes with these particular “gifts?” A challenge — an invitation to love is also in the package. And a soft and kind and gentle heart often accompanies a child whose gift is this.
And so, the first task of every parent is to quite literally open the gifts. Take the time — moments, weeks, months, years — to unwrap them with an open heart. Simply discover what it is that God has entrusted you with, and pray for His guidance to show you how you can help your child make the talents multiply and the gift to blossom into something that is pleasing to Him. God has entrusted you with these gifts, with this child, or these children. He will help you make the most of them. Notice what they are, ask for help, and be guided.
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” — 1 Cor 12:4-6.
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