The road to self-discovery can be a long and twisted one. Sometimes I am all about the journey and other times I would like to get out of the car and worry about it all another day. The past year, I have been embracing the journey. I am reading and listening to a plethora of intelligent people from all walks of life. It is my own personal GPS for figuring out who I am and where I am going. Closer to home, I often find answers and sometimes more questions at Church. My Faith is the power that runs the GPS on my path. It was on a Sunday during our Family Catechism class, that I discovered my spiritual gifts.
A Spiritual Gift/Charism is defined by the Catholic Church as:
Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 799
The exact number of spiritual gifts is up for debate. I’ve read everything from 7 to 9 to 14. Our class looked at 24 spiritual gifts. We each individually completed an inventory of 120 questions. At the end of the inventory, the results are tallied for each gift. Your high scores are your most prominent spiritual gifts. These types of evaluations fascinate me. I appreciate new ways to understand my motivations and how I can best use my gifts in the world. This class was right up my alley.
A million (well 120, but it felt like a million) questions later, I tallied up my scores to find my top two results:
Hospitality – a perfect score of 20. I was the only one at my table who had a perfect score in any category.
Empathy – coming in at 17. Not perfect, but pretty darn close.
If you handed me the list of 24 gifts, I am not sure I would have put these two at the top. But after further thought and reflection, they are spot on.
To define hospitality, I went to my friend Google. Hospitality is:
the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.
the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.
It is a straight forward definition. It does not leave a lot of questions or concerns for the reader. Can I tell you a little secret? I love to entertain people. I love to have people in my home, to cook for them, to serve them, and to enjoy their company. I want people to feel welcomed. In my house there is always room for one more. I can make dinner for 5 into dinner for 6 or 7 with hardly a thought. There is no need to call or make an appointment to stop by our house. If you are in the neighborhood, stop on by. The worst that will happen is we will not be home. If you knock on my door, I will welcome you in and remind you to look for toys as you walk or move the laundry over a foot so you can sit down. Hospitality does not need to be fancy or formal, it is about people being together, enjoying life.
From a biblical perspective Jesus and the Apostles depended on the hospitality of others. These men left everything they had to follow Jesus and in turn had to rely on the love and acceptance of others to survive. There is no need to operate in a vacuum. We do not need to wait for perfect circumstances to welcome someone in need of a place at the “table”. The table may be your office, your church, your school or your children’s school. Welcome people into the group. I will confess, when outside of my element, it is harder for me to exude the hospitality I feel in my heart. Anxiety takes over and I often have a hard time being the first to speak up. I am working on this aspect of myself. Someone has to speak first, why not me? In Hebrew 13:2, it reads “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels”. I love this verse. It is impossible to know how ones hospitality will affect the life of another. Kindness, generosity, and friendship are never wasted. Five minutes of kindness can make a lasting impression and difference in the life of another. We do not always know our full impact.
Back to Google for our definition, empathy is defined as:
the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself.
Empathy is not as clear a definition as hospitality. There is a lot more up for debate with this spiritual gift. Wanting to know more from a spiritual perspective, I went back to Google. (What did we ever do without Google?) I found an interesting article at the Catholic Education Resource Center. In an article titled Empathy, Donald Demarco wrote, “Empathy is the intellectual, emotional, and imaginative apprehension of another person’s situation that takes place without experiencing it. It is learning through identification, through entering that special matrix where one encounters the unifying cohumanity of self and neighbor.”
My definition, walk in your neighbors shoes, feel their pain, feel their joy, identify with their experiences even if they are not the same as your own. Before this class, I never considered empathy a spiritual gift. I saw it more as a paralyzing weakness. A deep sense of empathy can be confusing. It can also be overwhelming. I find myself reacting to the emotions of those around me and it can be exhausting. I have my own million thoughts and emotions to sort out; do I really have time for other people’s story too? I am afraid the answer is yes, because this is how God wired me. The Holy Spirit departed this gift on me and I just need to figure out why and find ways to use it for the improvement of the world around me.
Empathy is not all bad. You can experience people’s joy as well as their suffering. In 1 Corinthians 13:25-26 it reads, “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] parts suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” I believe we are meant to live and love with compassion. I think empathy allows me to see the many shades of gray in the world. It allows me to take a step back and see things from a perspective that is not my own. I hope this makes me a better mother to my children. I hope this makes me a better leader in my work life. I would like to use this gift to make the world better by seeing all the nuances that are not a part of my story. No easy answer or path with this gift, lots of hard questions and twists and turns on the road.
Discovering my Spiritual gifts gave me a new perspective on parts of myself that I knew were there, but not necessarily how to use them in the world. Being able to throw a good party is not necessarily changing the world. Seeing the ability to welcome people with kindness is a whole new perspective on making dinner for 8 with an hour’s notice. It may overwhelm me to put myself in someone else’s pain, but it also helps me find a way to help them without harm. If this all seems interesting and you want to explore it more yourself, the materials I used are from Via Maria Consulting, LLC. A search on Amazon also produced a long list of books on the topic. I may need to check a few of those out as well. You can never learn too much about yourself. You only have one life; it needs to be lived to the fullest.