Gifts and Hope

By Amy Schlag

In Ephesians 4: 11-16, we are reminded that as Christ ascended, we were each left with gifts and talents. We are told, “He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,” and importantly these gifts had a purpose, “building up the body of Christ.” As a result, we are told that we should “grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

While we are reassured that we have gifts, and reminded that we should use those gifts, we are never told what those gifts might be, nor are we reassured that any of this will be easy.  I have seen memes that refer to the Bible as an instruction manual, but sometimes I find it almost as hard to decipher as IKEA directions. Really, I am supposed to do all of this, and with this one tool? I am sure a lot of us wish the answers were more evident and the process was easier, but it certainly was not for Jesus, so why should it be for us?

However, as we are working to find our gifts, and discover the part we are to play in building up the body of Christ, we are given instructions as to how we should go about the search. In Ephesians 4:22-24, we are told we, “should put away the old self of [our] former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires and be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

I have been thinking about this a lot, and certainly not by accident.  Ephesians 4: 11-16, was part of the scripture we shared in our God Space small group this week, and part of the reading at Mass this week. Additionally, I am personally in a space of transformation in my life, bookended by events both wondrous and painful. I was recently baptized, a transformative event in anyone’s life. However, given my lifelong identity as an atheist, it felt especially transformative; surprising many in my life. Given that Easter was on April 1 this year, many people who knew me were convinced it was an April Fool’s joke. But it was not. It was a gift I had never anticipated, and was also deeply thankful to receive.  However, in the midst of this I was hit with the loss of my job. Another event that was transformative, but an event that didn't seem to leave any gifts for which to be thankful. I am left trying to make sense of both of these events. As I reflected on the passages, and sought to read more of Ephesians, I am trying to find a way to see both things as a gift, although I confess I am not there yet with the loss of my job. Instead, I am still left with a profound sense of betrayal, anger, sadness, and loss. For me, this is where the first gift, the tremendous gift of faith and baptism, become even deeper and more profound gifts.

I am certainly not alone in experiencing the loss of job, and it is not the first time I have struggled with the loss a job that meant a great deal to me, that helped anchor my life and purpose. However, this time, as I have struggled, I have turned towards faith, which I have never done before.  Perhaps this is part of putting away my old self and putting on my new self. As I continued reading, Ephesians 4:26 instructed me to “be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun set on your anger,” and that, “No foul language should come out of [my] mouth[s], but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” I have to say, I have failed a good bit in allowing no foul language come out of my mouth, but I am doing much better now in not allowing the sun to set on my anger through the gift of prayer, another new practice in my life. I am also reminded, that in return for the gift of this faith, I am told that “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice,” and that I am to “ be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

Perhaps, as part of the gift of this loss, I am being given the great opportunity to fully embrace my faith and work towards letting go of the bitterness, fury, anger, and I was holding. I have held onto those things for a long time in my life, and certainly after the experiences at my last job, maybe I even brought them into this job. Perhaps this is an invitation to finally rid my life of those things, and finally have the time to fully consider what gifts I have, what I am being called to do to do my part in building up the body of Christ.

This is what I am thinking at this moment and trying to embrace. It is a process and certainly I do not want to say I have worked it all out, and am in that space of forgiveness, rid of bitterness and anger. I am not.  It is all really hard now. It is a struggle. But these words, my faith community, the community I have experienced at God Space, have given me hope that I can get there. And for a person that has spent much of my life with a sense of hopelessness, that feeling of hope might be the most important gift I could receive right now.