by Shelley Shepard Gray
It was Time and Talent Day at church last Sunday.
It’s kind of a big deal. Ushers hand everyone a “time and talent” form along with the week’s bulletin when members walk into the sanctuary for services. Later, in the middle of the pastor’s sermon, he asks everyone to pick up one of the sharpened pencils thoughtfully placed in the back of each pew and fill out his or her name and contact information. Then we’re supposed to prayerfully consider which things we’d like to volunteer to do at church.
I have a feeling a lot of you have filled out forms like this a time or two.
As a former teacher—and as a person who once accepted the job of typing in the congregation’s answers into a spreadsheet—I can appreciate a lot of things about this group activity. First of all, it encourages everyone in the room to sign up for something. I need this push. Whenever we’ve gotten these forms in the mail, they always get lost on the counter. Or worse, I fill them out, then forget to bring them to church.
In addition, I also (and I mean this in the nicest way) kind of like that my husband doesn’t get to get out of filling out a form for himself. My guy might tell me that he has to “look at his calendar before he commits,” but he’s not going to tell the pastor that.
So, the activity is a good one…but not always that easy for me.
That’s because, while I’m sitting on that wooden pew with a pencil in my hand, I start wrestling with a bunch of internal debates. I start second-guessing all my volunteer choices…and just how much time I actually want to give to jobs at church.
Does this make me sound selfish? I’m not sure.
Over the years, I’ve come to feel pretty good about what I don’t volunteer to do. For example, even though I’m a writer, I rarely sign up to do any job that has to do with writing. Writing things like devotionals stressed me out. I never felt like my efforts were inspiring, and getting them done on time felt like another deadline.
The second job I usually say a firm no to is anything to do with Sunday school. Even though I’m a former elementary school teacher, and I genuinely like kids, Sunday school never felt like a good fit for me either.
So, instead of Sunday school and writing devotionals, I sign up for other things. Like being a lector and greeter. Baking communion bread and helping in the food pantry. Participating in prayer chains and delivering new member gifts. By the time the pastor finishes going through all five pages, I’ve enthusiastically checked all sorts of boxes. Lots of boxes.
And then the “time” part of the Time and Talent Day hits me square in the chest.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever had “time and talent” regrets? I’m ashamed to say I have. I overcommit myself, then when the phone starts ringing three months later and I’m in the middle of work or watching a movie in old sweats…I begin to regret my box-checking enthusiasm.
That is why this past Sunday, just as soon as I finished checking off all those boxes, my husband gave me a pointed look.
That was my hint to erase at least one of the things I signed up for. I knew he was right. Time and Talent Day isn’t the only opportunity to volunteer at church. Just as organized church activities aren’t the only way to share either our time or our talents.
Reminders of this happen all day long, every day of the week. It’s the sunny cashier at the grocery store and the joking high school kids bagging those groceries and wishing me a good day. It’s the neighbors who pick up each other’s mail and the strangers my dog and I meet on our walks. It’s the quick text messages from our very busy adult children who’ve taught me just as much as I’ve taught them.
Even though there aren’t check-off sheets for ‘being nice in the long line at the post office’ or ‘reach out to friends and family members on tough days’ or ‘share writing tips with other authors,’ I kind of wish there was. It’s nice to be reminded that we need other people in order to bring out the best of ourselves.
So that’s why, even though I won’t be pulling out a pencil and filling out a “time and talent” sheet in church for another year, I’m going to try my best to share some of my time and talents every day—and give thanks to everyone who shares something of themselves, too.
I think we all need to remind each other that God gave each of us many beautiful talents…and they’re very much appreciated. Every last one of them.
Shelley Shepard Gray is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous romantic fiction series and mystery novels, including the Seasons of Sugarcreek series, the Sisters of the Heart series, the Families of Honor series and others. She is a recipient of the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. She has written more than 80 novels, translated into multiple languages. Her latest book is Sycamore Circle, published by Blackstone Publishing.