What Do You Owe and to Whom?

One of my least favourite Bible stories of all time is the one about the landowner who doled out talents to three of his servants before leaving on a trip.  When he got back, he praised the two who had put their talents to work earning more and reamed out the poor frightened one who had buried his safely in the backyard.

This bothered me for two reasons.  It seemed obvious to me that that landowner had a history of abusing his servants and I always felt sorry for that third guy.  I thought he deserved an apology for past mistreatment at the very least.

The other thing I hated about this story was the use of the word talent.  Everybody jumps on that word as the explanation for the meaning of this troublesome parable.  If he’d given out drachmas, my life would have been a lot different.  But no, the word translated as talent and my teachers, because they had no clue what the story really meant, decided to berate anyone with any abilities at all that they had to use those abilities, those talents (see how clever?) for the greater glory of God.

The idea was that you had been given this Great Gift.  One not doled out to just anyone and so you owed it to God and the World to use it.

Every.  Single.  Day.

So I couldn’t just write short stories or draw pictures for my own amusement.  No.  I had to use my talents to Change the World.  The athletes?  Had to win Olympic gold.  For Jesus.

I’m not knocking religion.  And it’s not just those with a religious bent who believe that every freaking one of our abilities must be used for the betterment of the world.  This notion runs through the whole of society.   The idea that a talent not shared with everyone is a talent wasted.  And even among the atheists, somehow, there is the feeling that that waste is a sin.

I say, enough!

The world is ticking along as the world always has.  Disaster and mayhem alongside elegance and beauty.  It will tick along this way long after we’re gone.

I have talents and so do you.  And I’m happy to show you some of mine, and gaze admiringly at some of yours.  But if you don’t really want to share, to expose your creation to anyone, that’s fine with me.  If you want your silly drawings to bring a smile to your face alone, go ahead!  Light the underside of that bushel basket!  Bury your talent in the backyard!  Be the third servant!

Create only because you want to and not because there are people out there,  unknown and unnamed, who might, maybe need your spark of whatever to come into their life at just the right moment, but you have no way of knowing when that is, to cause some great, unknown event to possibly occur, without which, well, we won’t ever really know the outcome will we?

Enough with the pressure already.  Enough with the guilt.

Go have a run, if you’re a runner,  just for the sheer enjoyment of running, of feeling the ground under your feet and the air in your lungs.  Make your heart pound for you and you alone.

Artists?  Play around.  Do something that you’ll never show to anyone, not because you’re ashamed of it but because you really, really like it and you want to keep it all to yourself.

Writers?  Go nuts on those grocery lists.  No one but you will ever see them.  But if it gives you a smile on aisle six, won’t it be totally worth it?

And maybe if we all did more of that, those unnamed desperate people so in need of what we have might have the chance to figure it out for themselves.

What do you think?

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16 Responses to What Do You Owe and to Whom?

  1. John McMahon says:

    really, i would write something, but i am busy glowing under my basket… so warm… so cozy

  2. Mary Atkinson says:

    Hmmmm…..But that third guy didn’t use his talent for his own enjoyment or anyone else’s. Fear held him back.
    When we indulge in our talents we become happier and, as my daughter Sarah says, “the world needs happy people”.
    So I like to think that yes, my little scribbles make me happier but are also good for the community whether anyone else sees them or not. I admit this is just an intuition I have but if I pondered long enough I could probably come up with some erudite justification for my belief. But instead, since I have little talent for debate, maybe I’ll go off and do some scribbles or bake some cookies.
    Thanks, Barb

  3. Barb McMahon says:

    OK. I like the point about the fear holding him back. Let’s try to do away with that kind of fear.

    And you know I love your “scribbles”. And your cookies. But I hope that it’s your own enjoyment, your own good that you’re doing them for. If that makes sense?

  4. Mary Atkinson says:

    I’m only just slowly learning to do things “just for me”- not that I didn’t enjoy doing for others but it’s hard not to think of what your actions contribute to the world.
    Now that family no longer puts restrictions on my time I am having difficulty setting priorities for myself- I feel like I have this blank slate to fill and haven’t a clue how. So some days I just read all day- or today I finished planting 50 tulip bulbs.
    But there is something that keeps me from the scribbles or playing violin as often as I would like. Might be because of unrealistic expectations?
    More and more I see the value of any kind of creativity- it could be the one thing to save the world- isn’t that what Dostoyevsky said?

  5. Barb McMahon says:

    Oh, Mary – I hear you on the setting priorities! After spending so many years looking after my parents, I have really no idea how to fill my days.

    Very strange to be experiencing empty nest syndrome when I never actually had a nest!

    And maybe this rant was directed more at myself than anyone else. There are many, many people who find fulfillment and joy in the service of others. But for some of us, it can be a trap – one that it’s far too easy to walk into and away go another twenty years…

    I think it will take a whole lot of creativity to get us out of the mess we’re in.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

    (Adding Dostoyevsky to the reading list…)

  6. TalesNTypos says:

    Hear hear, hear ye, I’m liking this rant. It is a rant, right? 🙂

  7. Barb McMahon says:

    Oh, yeah. It’s a rant. I’m glad you like it!

  8. douglass says:

    You know, Barb…I don’t think you are experiencing empty nest syndrome at all. I think it is a new “infection” — let’s call it fulfilled nest syndrome, or maybe fulfilling the nest syndrome…something like that.

  9. Shana says:

    Barb, you’ve hit the nail on the head! I have been a knitter for going on 5 years now and I have spent almost this entire year working on Christmas presents for other people. While I enjoy making other people happy, sometimes just knowing that in my boots where no one else can see, I am wearing the most fabulous rainbow hand knit socks, makes me endlessly happy.

  10. Barb McMahon says:

    Good for you, Shana! Those socks sound cool.

  11. 1minionsopinion says:

    I delight in the happy simple things so I have to admit to great delight at finding this site. I just joined the Canadian blog thing.

    What you’ve said about atheists here is interesting (as I am one). The need to be necessary, to do necessary things. That’s a very utilitarian outlook to life, isn’t it? Not that every thing we do ought to be the exact opposite, but I think you hit on a fine point here about the need to find a balance between being useful and doing something simply because you like doing it.

    I love writing. I don’t even care if my blog gets read. A few years ago I spent my whole November buzzing on a NaNoWriMo high and I never showed that novel to anyone, but I was so excited about writing it. That was a blast. Sometimes you just have to do something for yourself.

  12. Barb McMahon says:

    Absolutely! Thanks for weighing in.

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