When looking for the best person for a job we often say that a person’s gifts or talents are what are most required for them to gain that position. But Jesuit Father Michael Buckley wrote a piece awhile back that challenges that assumption for the priesthood. I would challenge that this is true for nearly every vocation in life.
Take a peek at some of what Fr. Buckley offers:
There is a different question, one proper to the priesthood as of its very essence, if not uniquely proper to it: Is this man weak enough to be a priest? Is this man deficient enough so that he cannot ward off significant suffering from his life, so that he lives with a certain amount of failure, so that he feels what it is to be an average man? Is there any history of confusion, of self-doubt, of interior anguish? Has he had to deal with fear, come to terms with frustrations, or accept deflated expectations? These are critical questions and they probe for weakness. Why weakness? Because, according to Hebrews, it is in this deficiency, in this interior lack, in this weakness, that the efficacy of the ministry and priesthood of Christ lies.
So true. Our failures tell us far more about ourselves than our successes often do. When we see ourselves as small we often are then able to access where we can be most useful to others and we learn of our gifts and talents in a new way…through our weaknesses.
Two great examples from my own life:
So I enter a medical school three times a week on campus. And I realize that quite often intellectually, I’m the dumbest person in the room. These folks have better grades, better test scores and their brain probably can process information better than mine.
However, I still have something to offer them as a minister. How many of them can’t cry with a patient, or show sympathy or empathy? How many of them don’t like people and need to get their heads out of the book and into thinking on their feet—all things that I do very well.
How many might disregard a gross anatomy donor as another “bag of meat” instead of “a generous donor?”
Yeah, I’m weak enough to let myself feel those emotions and be changed by them and channel them into a different kind of energy?
The second one comes from making grand plans. I had many of them this summer for the semester and some of them went right into the crapper when a UB colleague I was working with up and left for another job. A second one was just implausible financially and a third had some time constraints that couldn’t be met.
I cannot always predict the future, but I am weak enough to be flexible and to look at the failures of the past and realize that I’m smart enough to get past this and rebuild. I’ve been broken and battered and the next time I’ll stand a bit stronger but for now, I’m weak enough to learn from all of it.
When I was a freshman in college, I failed a German course, the only course I’ve ever failed in my life. I ended up in the course because of poor guidance by a dean and it’s one of the only courses from my undergrad years that I still even talk about. I learned about the value of patience that semester because the dean of the language department at that time had none for me and forced me into the course when 2nd level Spanish was over my head and he refused to let me into the first level and insisted I start with a new language. I learned about how easy it is to fall behind when you get in a course late. I valued my health more because I got sick that semester missed two classes and fell behind even further. I learned about the value of trusted sources and administrators who can see beyond the rules, if we can but find those allies within the system.
And I learned humbleness after seeing that F on my transcript. I graduated 9th in my high school class and this was a big blow to my inflated ego.
But I also learned that one failure did not define who I was. I never failed another course. I ended up in graduate school later in life and graduated with honors.
A side note to this story. I also learned forgiveness. My German professor wouldn’t budge on the grade, despite my bargaining. She did write a letter to the financial aid office so that they wouldn’t cut my aid package. But I had some anger towards her regardless. She was nice enough and tried to help me, but German was clearly my Waterloo. I didn’t deserve a D, but I hoped she’d give me one anyway and when she didn’t I was really upset–especially when other students did less in other classes and were given passing grades.
Years later, I got my first job offer from WFAN just before graduation day. I was at the Campus Radio station and exited the building, Keating Hall, where it was housed.
And there she was, the witch that failed me. And she had boxes in her car–lots of them. Her and another dead (yes, she had been promoted) were standing there and our eyes met.
“Mike, might you be able to give us a hand with these?”
I looked into her eyes and my first thought was “You HAVE GOT to be joking! NOW you want a favor from ME!?”
But I also thought about how that failure didn’t define me. How much I had grown from that moment and how much more of a man I had become since being brought so low. I was about to go and work at the biggest All Sports radio station in the country. And her F didn’t stop that from happening. But more importantly, her F was stopping me from being open to her needs. And so, I told her, “Surely. Where to?”
We rode in the elevator together and caught up. She was happy to hear I was doing well and wished me well in my future.
I would only see her one more time since.
She read my name at my graduation that year, with a big broad smile on her face. I was weak enough indeed to graduate, learning so much from that single moment that the rest of my courses almost pale in comparison.
I’m not always the smartest kid in the class. But what I am is more than enough.
Even in all it’s weakness.