By Katherine Leatherman
On a sunny afternoon this past spring, 17 young adults stood in the Montreat College cafeteria parking lot, waiting for buses to arrive and start them out on a journey of self-discovery. Their destination? A scenic Christian retreat center in the mountains of Tennessee and, hopefully, a new or deeper understanding of the strengths God uniquely made each one of them with.
The Montreat College Calling and Career Center’s “What Are You Made For?” retreat was a weekend-long trip in which students focused on and learned about their strengths, as measured by the Gallup StrengthsFinder evaluation. A few days before the retreat those who signed up (myself included) took this personality assessment that carefully tested 34 different “character strengths,” then yielded each individual’s top five. These strengths categories are both understandable and surprising, ranging from more easily defined ones like “Achiever” and “Strategic” to more curious ones like “Input” and “Woo.”
Equipped with their results, students took them to be examined and expanded upon in multiple group sessions with Ms. Deborah White, a former Gallup Strengths consultant. Ms. White, a reserved woman, who is nonetheless passionate about teaching strengths, was a wealth of knowledge to the attendees as she instructed us in the complexities and beauties of our skills. She taught us about the composition of each Gallup strength, helped us to analyze our feelings and thoughts about our results, and encouraged deep reflection on the idea of God-given skill and how this applied to us personally—for both the present and for our future plans.
We were directed to Ephesians 2:10, reminding us that “we are God’s handiwork,” His poiema, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” What are the good works God is calling us to do with the gifts He has blessed us with? We pondered this question throughout the retreat, in the group sessions, the one-on-one meetings with Ms. White, and in the individual time we had to ourselves. In the last meeting on Sunday morning many of us shared our answers to this question, our ideas—our proposed “calling of our strengths.” Nobody’s statement was the same; some focused on people, others on ideas—but all had one thing in common. One point Ms. White emphasized was how often humanity focuses on the negative—on what needs to be changed versus what is doing well. The founder of the StrengthsFinder test, Donald Clifton, began his life’s work when he asked: “What will happen when we think about what is right with people?”
While this particular Christ-follower certainly doesn’t think focusing on the positives of humanity will solve our overwhelming brokenness, the idea of finding these glimpses of perfection, of what will one day be restored, brings about a way we can glorify our Maker through celebrating our gifts—using them in every situation we can in the time we have for His honor and glory. This statement, this longing for one’s life to have meaning, was what all the students’ calling statements had in common—and as Ms. White prayed for everyone in the closing of the retreat, so be it Lord.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6