By Michael Rossmann
Jesus was not just a wise teacher; he was God incarnate who suffered, died and rose for us. Still, Jesus clearly understood the human person and offered us teaching for our well-being.
The Gospels are living documents of faith and not simply a psychological work, and yet Jesus demonstrates his understanding of human psychology and instructs us in ways aimed at our flourishing and the promotion of God’s glory.
I recently attended a talk on strengths-based pastoral leadership. Businesses with an eye to the bottom line have made use of research on strengths-based leadership, which has been much written about in recent years in light of decades of Gallup research that indicates we are most effective when we focus on our strengths, not weaknesses. We learn little about excellence by studying failure, for example.
At the same time, it seems intuitive to most of us to focus on the areas where we are weak and not on the things that we already do with ease. Polls indicate that significantly more people believe that fixing their weakness would help them be more successful than building on their strengths — and many of us do expend far more time and energy trying to overcome our shortcomings. According to such research, however, building on strengths is ultimately far more successful.
Some parishes and religious groups have started to use such insights in order to be of better service. Enabling staff members to identify and develop their strengths rather than expending great energy trying to fix weaknesses can make them far more effective and thus ultimately better serve the people of God.
While strengths-based pastoral leadership is now seen as new and innovative, I find Jesus was describing related insights 2,000 years ago.
Jesus in a parable describes an enemy sowing weeds amidst a field of wheat, only for laborers to ask their master whether they should pull up the weeds. The master says that if they were to pull up the weeds they might uproot the wheat as well, and instructs his assistants to let the weeds and wheat grow together until harvest.
We do not like weeds – literal weeds in our gardens or figurative weeds like the imperfections and weaknesses in ourselves. We can beat ourselves up and concentrate our energy on eliminating such weeds, but then we may pull up the wheat at the same time. While it is important to recognize our weaknesses and sins and do what we can to remedy them, contemporary research on effective leadership — as well as Jesus himself — indicates that a more important question is whether we are allowing the God-given wheat within us to grow.
In our daily reflection or in approaching the sacrament of reconciliation, we commonly ask ourselves what weeds we have let creep into our lives and what sins we have committed — important questions, of course. Perhaps a less frequently asked question but one indicated by Jesus, who encouraged us to let our light shine and not hide it under a bushel basket, is whether we have omitted allowing our wheat to fully grow.
When I make time for the things that allow my wheat to grow — things like prayer, relationships, exercise and rest — I often find it much easier to be a better, more alive person. In fact, it seems to happen almost spontaneously. At the same time, when I go beyond not only noticing my weeds but beating myself up about them, I often expend much energy but make little progress on such weeds and then do not have the time and energy to share my God-given talents and passions.
St. Irenaeus is noted as saying that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. As important as it is to recognize our faults and try to improve on our weaker areas, we also are called to share the beauty and goodness given to us by God. As hard as we try, we may not make much progress in certain areas of our lives, but attempts to overcome weaknesses should not prevent us from allowing that which is truly wonderful to shine and give glory to God.
(Michael Rossmann is a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University Chicago and a 2003 graduate of Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read his World Youth Day blog for the Huffington Post, visit www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rossmann-sj).