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I know a woman who loves to exercise. She is lean, athletic, and could probably outrun me in any kind of race you’d care to dream up. But she also goes to the gym for several hours every day and has battled an eating disorder for two decades, both of which have endangered her health. Her interest in fitness and a lean appearance has gone from healthy to extreme.
We’re all at risk for doing this, and it usually begins innocently, even with good intentions. Maybe our interests don’t coincide exactly with hers, but we all have favorite hobbies, activities where we know we shine, and interests that can take over our lives if we’re not careful. It could be the genealogist who genuinely wants to redeem the dead, but who hasn’t said hello to her family members for a week and a half because she’s glued to the computer. It could be the guy whose determination to provide for his family has convinced him that being a workaholic is okay. Maybe it’s the young father who excels at video games and uses them to unwind after work—except that he’s still unwinding at 10 pm. It could be the Pinterest lover who can’t find time to read the scriptures because she’s crafting scripture bags and wall mottos about it for her entire family. How about the sporty, outdoorsy family that soon finds reason to pursue those activities instead of attending church?
Sometimes our talents aren’t so much activities, as traits. Someone insightful and wise can become the unofficial ward marriage counselor who gets swept into everyone’s problems at the expense of their own relationships. The ultra-organized person can find themselves going overboard, and judging those less tidy. A strong leader can become overbearing and take over committees, preventing others from learning to lead. Intellectuals can begin to “lean unto their own understanding” and forget to involve God in their decisions. Every one of us has natural and developed talents that can undo us if given free reign.
In a General Conference talk in 2013, Boyd K. Packer said, “Tolerance is a virtue, but like all virtues, when exaggerated, it transforms itself into a vice.” And we’ve all seen how gradually our standards can drop when we decide to bend the rules to fit society’s dictates. What started as a willingness to be tolerant and open-minded can make our brains a dumping ground for every whim of the world that comes along. Instead of simply loving others while still holding true to our principles, some of us drop our principles. This leads us to embrace everything, including the moral relativism Elder Dallin H. Oaks has warned us about (Dallin H. Oaks, Balancing Truth and Tolerance, Ensign Magazine, February 2013).
Throughout the Doctrine and Covenants and in other Holy Writ, we are told that God has blessed us all with gifts and talents. We can even pray for the ones we need, yet lack. And, of course, we’re told not to bury them. But we are never told to magnify them until they distract us from our eternal purposes.
Christ is the best example of how to keep talents balanced, using them to build the kingdom, but not allowing them to overshadow his main purpose. Think of the immense talents he had—and he was perfect at everything! He was astounding at teaching the gospel. But he didn’t set himself up as the world’s greatest orator and run around only giving speeches to huge crowds, neglecting to show love to individuals or to heal them. He didn’t open up a clinic and do nothing but treat people’s physical ailments all day, and neglect the teaching of repentance and obedience.
He showed love and forgiveness, but didn’t bend his rules and wink at sin, shrugging off the commandments in order to accommodate the unrepentant. He could have sought popularity and acclaim for his vast understanding of science, art, politics, virtually any field. But he had a higher calling– to raise us up, elevate our spirits, love us, teach us of God, and urge us to love others and make progress. He kept everything in perfect balance. Finally, in the most sublime sacrifice ever offered, he atoned for our sins so that we could make our way home again. He, the most talented being ever, nevertheless exemplified the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
God has given magnificent talents to many, and has made others available to us all. Are we using them to serve him? Are we thinking of ways we can use our talents to assist in missionary work? Do our talents reach the poor and downtrodden? Do we enrich our homes and lift one another? Are we teaching higher principles to young children? Make a mental list of three strong talents you possess, and then another list of how you’ve used them this year, in service to others. Talents that only glorify ourselves, or which are not shared, are misspent.
I admire the businessman who volunteers to teach high school kids finance management, how to get a job, and practical investing. I like the professional athletes who devote part of their time to inner city youth clubs, and artists who take on community beautification projects. I think it’s extremely cool when computer savvy teens patiently help the elderly navigate the Internet. Kind grandparents, whose grandchildren live far away, often nurture and encourage the children in their neighborhoods and wards. An elderly sister in my ward hands me a list of a dozen names every month, of other seniors she has visited in her facility, who aren’t even on her Visiting Teaching route. These people aren’t going overboard, allowing their talents to take over their lives, or seeking adulation for how great they are. They’re just giving back.
Every one of us has abilities that can bless the lives of others. By using our talents to balance our lives with service, we show true appreciation to our maker for blessing us with these gifts. And if we resist exaggerating them, as Elder Packer described, they can remain the virtues they were meant to be.