Authored by Mara Hodler
I was recently talking with a friend of mine who has a 12-year-old daughter, Jenni. What makes Jenni unusual is that she is enrolled in a high-commitment gymnastics program. She practices 16 hours a week, which means that four times a week, she gets picked up from school at 3:30 PM, heads to gymnastics, and works out until 8 PM. She does her homework in the car on the way to gymnastics or late at night after her session. She eats dinner in the car on the way home.
Enrolling in this program was Jenni’s choice and not something that her family pushed her into doing. She loves gymnastics and wants to take it as far as she can. For years before enrolling in this intense program, she practiced between four and eight hours a week. She had won a lot of medals and was considered the best gymnast at her level in the area. Last year, she decided that she wanted to earn a gymnastic scholarship for college and so enrolled in this high-commitment program.
After a few months in the program, she admitted that it’s tough. Some days she really just wants to play with her friends like other 12-year-old girls, instead of practicing back walks on the bar over and over. Sometimes she gets frustrated at the combined load of keeping good grades in school as well as progressing in her gymnastics program. An additional challenge is that she went from being “advanced” in her level to “beginner” in a new level. Her coaches have high expectations and they push her pretty hard. They expect her not to cry from the pain or the coaching, but to persevere. They aren’t just training girls to do cartwheels; they are training athletes to compete and to win!
Honestly, this is a lot for a girl who is only 12 years old, so why does she do it? What makes people put themselves through so much? It’s because she’s following a dream. She is choosing excellence. She’s taking her talent and developing it into a skill. Even though it’s hard right now, I don’t think she’s going to regret it. She’s not going to ask herself one day, “I wonder if I could have done anything more with my gymnastics skills. I wonder if I wasted an opportunity.”
A lot of us haven’t got it in us to push ourselves toward excellence. We love the idea of something, but the thought of the commitment, discipline, and hard work it would take to achieve that idea is enough to dissuade us. We talk ourselves away from our dreams and down from our passions, telling ourselves, “It’s just too much work!” But the fact is that each of us has the opportunity to develop excellence and skill in our lives, to be the very best we can be, to do the outstanding. We just have to commit to it.
Jesus told a story along these lines that I find very interesting: In the parable of the talents1 a certain rich man was going away on a trip. He called his three most trusted servants to him and explained that he wanted them to care for his estate in his absence. He obviously knew something of their characters and abilities, and according to this knowledge, he entrusted each of them with some talents.
To the first, he gave five talents, to the second, two, and to the last, one. Now, a talent is not something that can be held in a little coin purse. A talent was actually equal to about 80 pounds (around 36 kg) of silver; and as a unit of currency, it was worth about 6,000 denarii, or about 20 years of earnings for the average person. It was also considered the “value of a life.” In some cases, a condemned criminal could buy his freedom for a talent. In today’s value, it would probably be worth between US $350,000 and US $500,000. So, receiving five talents was a huge opportunity, but receiving even one talent wasn’t shabby either.
So the master went away for a time, and upon his return he wanted to know what the servants had done with his wealth. The first servant said, “Lord, you left me with five talents. I invested them, and now they are doubled.” The lord was very pleased with his servant and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
The second servant had also doubled the talents he had been given and got the same response from his lord. When the third servant was asked the same question, he had a different response: “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”
His lord’s response to him was not filled with any sympathy. He said, “You wicked and slothful servant! You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
The third servant had done the safe thing. He’d hidden the talent so that when his master returned, he would be sure to have at least the one talent kept safe and sound. But the master wanted to see him do something with the talent. He didn’t excuse him for his fears.
It seems to me that the master was not looking at how much each servant had to begin with, but what they did with what they had. Some scholars credit this parable with being the reason for how we use the word “talent” today. “Talent” refers to a gift, ability, or skill. When we look at the story in that context, it becomes obvious that God expects us to do something with the gifts, talents, and abilities He’s entrusted to us. It’s also obvious that “doing something” involves some work and some risk. It’s also wise to note that failing to do anything with our talents is not something Jesus recommends.
I admire Jenni for what she’s doing with her talent. I think that what she’s learning through the discipline, sacrifice, and commitment involved will be of great value to her for the rest of her life. I think it’s wonderful that she can learn how to invest her talents now, when she is still young. That way she has a head start on getting the most she can out of life.
If you have a talent or skill that God has given you, invest in it. Grow it for God. You may not know what He’ll do with it now, but one thing you can know is that at the end of life’s journey, you’ll hear Him say, “Well done.”
1 The parable of the talents is found in Matthew 25:14–30 and Luke 19:12–28. (Quoted verses were taken from the English Standard Version.)
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International