In the New Testament, Jesus told a parable of a man who, about to leave on a trip, gave each of his servants some talents (coins) to have stewardship over. Each received a different amount. Most of them used the talents in such a way as to increase the value of the stewardship by the time the master returned. However, the person who had received the smallest number of talents—only one—hid his in the ground to protect it, rather than working to make it worth more than it was worth originally.
Even though the man had only one talent, and others had as many as five, he was expected to make good use of that talent and to expand its value, rather than to bury it where it couldn’t help anyone.
Today, we often look around and see that others have far more talent than we do. When our talents don’t seem as many, we might feel less valued by God. When our talents are less great, we might wonder if it’s even worth doing anything with them.
Mormon beliefs teach that our talents are gifts from God. The number we’re given, or even the extent of them, really isn’t the point of the talents. They were given to us to do something with, and if we use them well, they will have value and even increase.
I’m an author. I didn’t write something publishable the first time I sat down to write. It took many years of writing badly written stories, articles, and books—beginning when I was only six years old—before I wrote something anyone was willing to publish. I received a large stack of rejection letters over the years before I received the first acceptance letter, and still receive rejections today, even after publishing a book that got good reviews.
My books will never be best sellers. I simply don’t have that kind of talent. Does that mean I shouldn’t write? Of course not. What I write may not make history, but it has helped a few people, and so has value. I’ve improved my ability to write over the years, and since I can live forever through the atonement, I expect I will improve a great deal in the next few million years. However, I can’t wait for the next life to get started; mproving my talents is one of my earthly assignments.
Sometimes we misjudge how talent and success work. I decided many years ago to return to school and take a math class, because I wanted to better help my children with their math. I’d always been awful at math, and was extremely frightened to take this class. However, I ended up getting straight A’s in every test, the first A’s I had ever received in math. A student who was not doing well noted my grade on the posted grade sheet and complained it wasn’t fair that I got A’s. He said it was easy for me because I was naturally good at math. I explained my history of math failures. My grades weren’t the result of talent; they were the result of hard work. We were required to do every other odd numbered problem. I did every problem, often three or four times. I worked a few weeks ahead of the class in case I got stuck and I received one-on-one help from the professor almost weekly by making use of office hours. I even cornered a professor or two I wasn’t taking classes from when I was really desperate.
Talent can help us to be successful, but hard work is also critical. I may never be a math genius, because my brain isn’t configured for that type of thinking. My talent in math was miniscule, but hard work made up some of the difference. Even with great talent, work is critical.
Of course, hard work can’t turn you into a genius in every case. Anyone who has heard me singing to my toddlers in the church nursery knows I’m never going to be a great singer, but even though singing might not be my talent, I can still sing, at least to toddlers who don’t care. I used to worry a lot about what I wasn’t good at. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped worrying about this so much and I’ve begun to focus on what I can do, or might be able to do if I really worked at it.
When I felt overwhelmed about writing a book, a friend pointed out that if I wrote only one page a day, I’d have a book in a year. I only had to focus on my one little page. Many of us are very busy and don’t feel we have much time for talents. However, if we give that talent even fifteen minutes of our time each day, we will be working toward something that will be ready for our greater attention in a few years, when we have more time.
The Savior, Jesus Christ, instructed us to make wise use of every gift God has given us. If we take even our tiniest talents and work at them, turning to God for help, we can magnify them and thereby honor the giver of the gift. The parable of the talents was given to us to remind us to make use of our God-given gifts to become the person God knows we can be.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.