What we have to offer

Growing up, most of us were taught to focus on our strengths. It was said that everyone had something to offer, and once we discovered what it was, the task of our lives would be finding ways to offer it.

Several corollaries flowed from that general principle. For example, we were encouraged not to "air our dirty laundry in public." Choosing not to share our lowest moments openly when there is no need to do so was not considered dishonest but discreet, and prudence was rightly celebrated as a virtue. Similarly, when applying to educational institutions and employers, the recommended approach was summed up by the instruction to "put your best foot forward." That is, to emphasize all our positive qualities and minimize any negatives.

On the surface, it all sounds like good advice. But following it in our professional and social lives has spilled over into how many of us conduct our spiritual lives. There's a time to dress up and present ourselves in the best way we can. But that's not how we ought to approach God. Our tendency to do so has kept many of us from growing in our relationship with him. Treating a divine encounter like a job application is certainly counterproductive, but many of us do it anyway without even realizing it. We may be sincere in our desire to give God our best. But that kind of thinking can prompt us to hold back our brokenness from the only one who knows how to make good use of it. It's like going to a doctor and telling him we feel great when we don't.

We know that honesty and intimacy go together. That we shouldn't present ourselves better -- or worse -- than we actually are. But that can be tricky because, most of the time, we don't see ourselves or others the way God does -- the way we really are. As a result, we end up presenting an image of ourselves rather than truly giving ourselves. The box may be beautifully wrapped, but there's nothing inside.

When we look at the messes we've made or the messes we are, we might be tempted to conclude that we have little or nothing to offer God. That is not the case. We are more than what we have done or failed to do. We are also more than what has been done to us. The suffering we have borne and even the suffering we have caused -- all of this can be offered to God. Every bit of it can be united with the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

And here's more good news. We can offer up an aspect of our lives at any time. There is no expiration date. I can still place on the altar all the things I could not offer when they were occurring, and I can do that now. My childhood wounds, my sins and selfishness, my greatest joys and achievements, all of it can be surrendered to grace. That is how both my best feet and my dirty laundry can become what God uses to save me.

As Lent approaches, we ought to consider what we have not yet offered to God. Almost all of us withhold something. Some of us are too lazy or stingy to give God our very best. Others of us struggle with the pride and fear that makes us refuse to give him our worst. But God accepts whatever we have to offer. He wants us all and he wants all of us. Not only our gifts but our limitations. Not only our victories but our failures. And not just our shining moments of virtue and sanctity but our ugliest sins. He does not want us to put our best foot forward with him. Rather, God wants us to trust in his merciful love for us and in the power of his sanctifying grace.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.