Identifying Your Gifts and Juggling Life with Sharon Hodde Miller
Do you know what your gifts are? Are you using them or are they being wasted? Here's a secret...the world needs what you have to offer! God gave you your gifts for you to use and make an impact. Recently I spoke with Sharon Hodde Miller - an incredible woman and giver of wisdom. She is a mom, wife, church planter, teaching pastor, and author. We talked a lot about identifying and using your gifts to serve in the Lord's name.
Sharon and her husband Ike, planted a Church in Durham just over a year ago. Ike is the lead pastor and she is the teaching pastor. Right before they launched the Church was when Sharon had her 3rd child and she was also finishing her second book. You can probably gather they run at a pretty high pace!
Prioritizing, Juggling, And Balancing The Different Roles In Your Life
Where Sharon lives is one of the most highly educated areas of the country per capita. Basically, this means that there are many women who are doctors, lawyers, CEOs, V.Ps, and professors who are leading in their professions and then they're walking into churches in the south where they're not really being taught what it means to be a female leader who is a follower of Christ. There's not really anyone in the Church who's showing them how to do that. As a teaching pastor, this is what Sharon is responsible for.
Initially, she was a little hesitant about it taking on this role. She has 3 kids age 7 and under which is a really demanding time. While they need her, she's delighted to be with them and really enjoys them, so that's a huge priority for her. On top of being a mom (which is already a full time job) she has her writing and speaking that she travels a fair bit for. So the thought of living up to 'Pastor' expectations had her worried that she wouldn't be able to deliver during this season of life. But she did it...
While it's hard to be the best in all your roles during busy seasons of life, there are ways to make it work. Sharon credits a lot of her ability to do this to her relationship with her husband. They're just super supportive of one another - they create space for each other to fully deliver in their respective areas.
You also have to know what your priorities are and then you really have to fight for them. Saying 'yes' is saying 'no' to something else. And the reverse of that is true. Saying 'no' is saying 'yes' to something else. Whenever Sharon says 'no' to something, it's usually because she's saying 'yes' to her family, or her Church. For this reason, she says 'no' to a fair bit of travel and speaking events. As a family, they have flexible boundaries to create balance, but it always come back to priorities. This often means she's only traveling once a month.
It can put a lot of strain on her family even if she's gone only for 24 hours. And if she's honest, she'd rather be with her kids anyway. Of course there are times when she's on Instagram seeing what her peers are doing and how much they're traveling which makes her think she should be; she wants people to know she's important too. But then she has to check back in and remind herself that's not what she's called to right now.
Also, as a mom and wife, Sharon has to be smart and get really creative. When she needs space to write, she'll carve out time to be away from the kids and get sitters who are often college students or parents that help out from time to time. But this only allows her a few hours here and there. 2 mornings a week, her kids are all in school/preschool now which has been a game changer for her - this uninterrupted quiet time is SO important to be able to give full attention to your work, and also to avoid taking out any frustrations on the kids.
When she was writing Free of Me, she would take her kids to the YMCA and put them in childcare for the maximum 2 hours. Then, she'd use the first hour to workout and the second hour to write. Even during her exercise time, she would be thinking about her book and planning things out. There's the cliché 'escape to a quiet cabin for a week' for writers to really make a dent in their writing. But some people just can't afford to do that. All you can do is your best. Use the time you do have in the best way you can and then ask God to multiply. It's really liberating to know that what you're doing with the time you have is enough.
Women In Ministry And Finding Your Gifts Through Faith
Sharon's research project for her PhD. was about women in Ministry and their roles within the Church. She interviewed women who are in seminary to uncover why evangelical women go to seminary, because not many do.
In most seminaries, women compose about 30% of the student body working towards a Masters of Divinity which is a degree for people who are intentionally going into Ministry. In more conservative seminaries, that percentage drops significantly to about 15%-10%, sometimes even less. So, she was really curious about the women who did go and why? Why did they choose to go get training for Ministry when so few other women do?
Sharon went so a bunch of different seminaries, fairly conservative ones at that, and sat down with women and asked them to tell her their stories. What encouraged them? What empowered them? She was looking for common threads in their stories.
The real question for Sharon, behind all the other questions was: how are churches cultivating the gifts of women? How are they stewarding the whole body of Christ? She loved these conversations - she was so excited about these women that God was raising up for the Church.
The number one thing that she learned about 'calling' and what encouraged these women to go to seminary, and to go into Ministry was that every single one of them had a person (usually multiple people) who named their gifts; who told them "this is what I see in you". For one woman, it was as small (but as big) as her professor pulling her aside after her New Testament class and saying "Have you ever thought about seminary? You have a great gift for understanding God's word". She heard story, after story like this.
Sometimes we can miss the subtle ways that God calls people out into the position that he's created for them. He uses people to help his people. We just need to listen a little harder. To find out what your gifts are, ask the people you love and trust. Ask your friends and family and see what they say. Seek wise counsel and be careful about who you're asking this question to first, but also be bold and faithful in seeking the answer.
Something that Sharon really inspired me to do is research and hear people more. I feel extremely passionate about understanding why women struggle with creating and sticking to healthy habits, while it's so easy to cling to bad habits. I always say I help women do what they say they're gonna do. It's made me want to research more and do more interviews and go speak to women in person so I can see the facial expressions behind what they share with me...to really dig deeper.
Often, we think that if we don't have certain gifts, that our gifts don't matter as much as others. Gifts don't have to be outrageous. Your gift could be encouragement, mercy, administration, hospitality, or anything in between! Our gifts shouldn't be viewed as a hierarchy where teaching, leading and preaching are the higher, better gifts. This is something that Church planting reinforced for Sharon because while her and her husband have very different personalities, they have similar gifts. They are both leaders and teachers. But neither of them have any administrative or event planning gifts (apparently that's where their souls go to die lol). There's a number of things that can really make a Church stronger, some of which they don't possess gifts for. They've been desperate for some of the gifts that seem less exciting, or less important and they've been so, so grateful when others have been able to use their gifts to fill in the gaps.
1 Corinthians 12 talks about the body of Christ being interdependent. How the arm needs the foot and the head needs the legs. If you feel like you have a gift that doesn't seem important, just know that there's a Church or a person or business out there who really needs YOUR gifts. A quote from Sharon's book Free of Me reads "God does not give you your gifts to sit on your hands." Let's just allow that one to sink in.
How To Use Your God-Given Gifts
A lot of times when people hear the word 'gift', they're immediately think of their career. Like their gift needs to be synonymous with their career. When we do a lot of spiritual growth, we can get to a point where we realize that what we are doing with our career is not our calling. It feels unfulfilling and we begin to feel this tug to step more into our gifts, but it's so scary and unstable.
Something that underpins this conversation, is one of privilege, and that can be a hard pill to swallow. If you're poor, you don't have the luxury of a) spending time discovering your gifts and b) being able to use them. Sharon was just in Rwanda around women whose sole responsibility is to support their families. And while they're doing an amazing job at it, they're not necessarily thinking about what their calling is. They're just trying to figure out how to be smart and wise in a way that helps their family.
With this in mind, if you're someone who's in a really tough financial season and feeling like you would really like to be doing something else, but financially, you just can't make it work, just know that it doesn't always have to be one or the other.
Unless you're selling millions of books, most authors cannot support themselves financially based on writing - they have another job. A lot of people are piecing together their callings with other aspects of life - they have a job and then in their free time, they're doing the thing that they're really passionate about. It's especially important for young people, to know this: it's okay to have a job that you don't like at times. Once you can recognize your gifts, you can use them in your not-so-great jobs.
So, a good place to start on this quest is just to ask yourself if you are using the gifts that you have, where you're at right now. Just start using them and things will change. Nothing is wasted. A lot of us have to be really creative in how we use our gifts. The Church or ministry might be an outlet for your gifts. You might have to fight to use your gifts, but you will do so all the same, because God has called you to stay faithful.
Motives Behind Being A Nice Christian Woman
I could talk about Free of Me forever, but Sharon actually has a newer book out now called Nice. What she wrote about in this second book would have taken a lot of courage - the concepts in it aren't easy things to put into words.
The idea for Nice actually came from Free of Me. In her first book, she briefly told the story of her childhood and how she grew up as this really nice Christian girl. She was a rule follower, a high achiever, and a people pleaser. At the time, if you'd asked her why she did those things, she would have said a big part of it was because of her faith - that she loved God and wanted to honor him. But in hindsight, she could see that it was more complicated than that. She was also a nice Christian girl because it was really rewarding for her. It won her a lot of approval and a lot of praise and she really craved those things. Being nice got her things.
It was in only a few lines that she talked about how her motivations had gotten really muddled and then she thought she was done with it. But the idea just kept coming to her again and again and again. It was haunting her. It was haunting her because she hadn't left that tenancy behind in childhood like she thought she had. She'd actually carried it with her into adulthood and into ministry. She realized there were times where she was hesitating to say something that was biblical and true, for fear of how she might be perceived for saying it.
She realized how much she'd been serving that 'nice girl' image and how it had even benefited her. But she also realized upholding that image was not what she was called to...God didn't call us to be nice. He called us to be true and faithful. So, she knew she had to explore the topic more. And that's where Nice came from.
Christ came for us to be free...this is no metaphor. God actually set us free when he sent Jesus. If we don't feel free, that means there's more of the gospel that we need to pick up and live out.
When something feels heavy, ask yourself why that is. Ask yourself what you're holding that you're not supposed to be holding. For Sharon, sometimes this means just pruning her schedule. But sometimes it's her motivations. If she's nervous about an event going well, she asks herself why she's worried. If it's because she's afraid of what people will think of her; if it's about her reputation, then it becomes really heavy. But if it's about God's reputation, it becomes really light. She'd much rather people think she's an idiot and be free.
I resonate with this completely. Years ago, when my anxiety was increasing, I realized it was because I was carrying the burden of my issues by myself instead of laying them down at the cross. When I learned how to bring the stories and conversations I was having with women to the Lord fully and drop them so that I wasn't taking them home, into my marriage or friendships, I noticed how my anxiety just began to disappear. When we try to carry the load ourselves, it's crazy how easy it is for Satan to catch up to us.
You can connect with Sharon on Instagram @sharonhmiller and check out her website: https://sheworships.com/nice-book/. Also, you can find her books pretty much anywhere books are sold!
If you liked this post, check out episode 76 of my podcast - The Chasing Freedom Show. You can find it on Spotify, iTunes, or SoundCloud. If you love the episode, screenshot and share it with me on social media @trainertanner #chasingfreedom.