January often screams NEW to me. New year, new goals, new opportunities, new me. After a few weeks spent entertaining all the new possibilities, I usually end up back with the same old me.

This can be okay, because January is also a time of inventory: a time to take stock of one’s strengths.

I recently took a  strength finder evaluation at the suggestion of my sweet husband. I’ve taken things like this in the past, and my results were what I would have expected. The trouble is that I have a  hard time valuing my specific strength set.

Here’s a look into why I find it hard to value my strengths:

My strengths are relational and therefore hard to measure. There is no checklist or rubric when you’re talking about friendships and relationships and encouraging the people in them. There are certain gifts that are easier to see and quantify. For example, take organization. You can see the results of this strength in someone’s tidy home or color-coded filing system or well-planned and ordered meeting agenda.

If I got only two things done in a day and those two things were wash all the laundry and talk to a discouraged friend for an hour, the only tangible fruit of my day would be the laundry. Because of my relational strengths, if I had to choose between those two activities, I would choose talking to a discouraged friend Every. Single. Time. But then I’d question how my husband would feel to come home from work and discover that all I accomplished in a day was talking on the phone to a friend. Would that be productive enough? I have a fantastic husband who values my gifts and strengths considerably more that I do myself. Sure he’d like clean underwear, but he also wouldn’t be mad that I had used my gifts (and my time) to help a friend. So why do I devalue them?

I’m starting to see that it’s in the comparison of my strengths to others’ that causes my dissatisfaction. When I look at my own strengths, by themselves, I like them. I love that I love people. I love talking to people and being available to others and being a safe person for others to open up to. I love all those things about me. However, the trouble comes when I hold up my gifts in contrast to those around me. Suddenly, to me, my strengths feel small and inconsequential. My gifts don’t bring anything to the table in a world screaming for success and results and productivity.

This is wrong because I know that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God. To dislike and undervalue my gifts, I’m essentially telling God that he’s given me loser gifts and that he messed up. I am embarrassed to write that, horrified that I often live like I believe that. It is ugly and not at all what I want. I really want to appreciate my giftedness and use the gifts given to me to help, assist, and serve others. I want to believe fully that what I have to offer those around me is something God knew they would need.

Because of this mismatch between my theology and my practical living, I’m determining in 2016 to reconcile them by looking at my strengths and gifts just as they are, mine alone, without standing everyone else’s gifts next to them in comparison. I desire to mindfully thank God for my unique strengths more frequently. I plan to pray for more opportunities to use them. I’m also going to write down in a journal the times I meet with people, whether planned meetings or more spontaneous conversations, in hopes that a running compilation will prove to me that my gifts have a place. That my gifts matter.

Perhaps you, too? Make 2016 a year to focus on appreciating and utilizing your own strengths.

Dusty Reed

Dusty is a wife, a mother and a friend. Having grown up in a big city, she is now raising her family of seven on a farmstead in rural Nebraska. During weekdays Dusty can be found teaching her children at the dining room table. Or napping; it can be exhausting raising five kids! Dusty is always on the lookout for ways to avoid housework. Her favorite ways are meeting friends for coffee, preparing meals to take to others, or simply laying in a hammock with a good book. Often feeling like an inadequate mess, Dusty is allowing God to enter into those fragile parts of her heart to heal it. Anything she learns along this tangled path of life, she longs to share with others.