The Perfect Toolset
I believe that success is found when we discover our unique, personal charisms and use them to serve others. For a long time, I thought that saintly success had to mirror the deep poverty, endless charity, and exhausting hardships of our greatest saints.
For example, I saw Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s life of service and charity as a roadmap to holy success. Saint Teresa’s call to “do small things with great love,” is absolutely beautiful. She gave up all she owned, moved to India, built a hospital, ministered to the poorest of the poor, prayed diligently, inspired world leaders, and (only begrudgingly due to her humility) accepted a Nobel Peace prize.
As an aspiring saint, I’m a bit intimidated by her life. When I look at my own heart, the truth is…
1. I have no desire to leave America
2. The only desire I have to visit India is to go and take really cool #instagram #girlswhotravel #influencer pics for lots and lots of likes
3. I have no desire to work in healthcare
4. I am fully unqualified to work in healthcare and the would-be patients of any hospital I create are in serious danger
5. My vocation is — tbh always a little bit tbd, leave the door open for Christ! — unlikely to be that of a cloistered nun
6. I am maybe called to seek out and attend adoration every day, but while I take my prayer life and biblical reading very seriously, by virtue of my vocation (see above, not a sister), it’s tough.
When I go over a list like that and compare it to St. Teresa’s life, it’s easy for me to find excuses as to why I’m not a saint. Even more worrisome, sometimes I try to force my desires to fit in line with her giftings. “Moving to India wouldn’t be that hard,” “I could help so many people!” “I don’t need so many possessions,” and “I just need to stop scrolling Facebook and pray more.”
While these statements bear truth, I, Kiley Sheehy, was not created to be Saint Teresa of Calcutta 2.0. Her giftings, or charisms, are different than mine. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want me to be a saint – on the contrary! God desires for me to grow in holiness according to the charisms He has given me uniquely.
What is a charism?
A charism is an extraordinary power given to a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. The key to charisms is that they are not for you. They are gifts, to be given in service to others.
The brilliant thing about sainthood is that it honors our truest charisms. What led Saint Teresa to sanctity was her commitment to leveraging her perfect toolset to share the light of Christ with the world. This means that I could do exactly what she did, and still fall significantly short of sainthood. It also means that I could forge my own path to sanctity, according to the gifts I’ve been given. The question is – where do we start?
There are many ways to take stock of our charisms. A great resource is the St. Catherine of Siena Institute, where you can find local workshops or do the assessment on your own. I recently took stock of my own charisms at a #COVID19 retreat getaway, and the top of the leaderboard looked like this: Administration, Evangelism, Knowledge, Leadership, Pastoring, Teaching and Writing.
If I had to guess, I think Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s list was a little different: voluntary poverty, faith, intercessory prayer, mercy and service.
When I look at my list, so many ideas come to mind: public speaking, book writing, blog writing, sharing the gospel (I love to tell anyone who will listen about it’s countless applications to life here and now). There are so many good, virtuous ways for me to be successful using my gifts – and I don’t think any of them include building a hospital and shipping off to Asia. (I am open to it, of course. If someday the spirit moves me, it’s never off the table.) Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s ability to embrace her charisms was outstanding. She genuinely and authentically embraced her giftings and, through them, paved her path to sainthood. Her poor ones reveal God to her in a divine experience that’s uniquely hers by the grace of her discernment of charisms.
She said something that sums it up beautifully,
“My poor ones in the world’s slums are like the suffering Christ. In them God’s Son lives and dies, and through them God shows me his true face.”
It’s only through faith that we will ever achieve success, and it’s only when we are chasing the right sort of success for our God-given gifts and circumstances that we’ll be illuminated in the light of our faith. While I won’t follow Mother Teresa’s actions step by step, I will work to mimic the way she was receptive and obedient to her giftings. I could be wildly “successful” if I packed it in, moved to India, and started a mission. I could have a huge, wide reaching impact. But it’s more likely I would face burnout, homesickness, and frustration in pursuing efforts so foreign to me, and living so against the grain of my vocation.
Living our charisms should be an experience of joy and ease. In fact, embracing our natural gifts often won’t feel like work at all. Charisms are given to us so we can be a lighthouse of truth in the rocky shores of others’ lives. We are given graces to be the things others need to bring them closer to the safe harbor of heaven. Lighthouses don’t shine into themselves, they illuminate the path for all the other boats out there.
This #COVID19 season, I’ve really had to figure out exactly what it is that will keep me going, hour to hour, and on the road to heaven. I found the answer by referring back to my perfect toolset of charisms. I thought about how loneliness is a real issue facing many people who are quarantining on their own right now. To combat this, my best friend and I set up a weekly video call for parishioners to connect after Sunday mass. We wanted to make sure that it was accessible to everyone, so we created detailed instructions (complete with photos) to help people learn how to Zoom. These coffee chats have created much needed connection and have brought me so much joy – from the longtime ushers who keep inviting new friends, to the gentleman who sends us weekly thank you notes, and a woman who sent us her family recipe for Povitica!
I’ve also created a new program called Elizabeth Ministries, to encourage women who are struggling with eating and self-image. I can’t wait to use my giftings and personal experiences to share Christ’s light and encourage others.
Our charisms are wildly different – that’s what makes us each so special! Take some time to reflect and assess your own charisms. Ask the people around you when and how they feel most loved and served by you. And then put that perfect toolset to work. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “There are no great things, only small things with great love.” With God’s grace, through our unique charisms, we can truly accomplish all things with great love.
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Kiley was born as an army brat and raised all over these Great United States. A cataclysmic FOCUS encounter at the University of Kansas changed her course for the kingdom. She is the founder of Elizabeth Ministries, championing women’s struggles with eating and self worth, highlighting feminine genius, and bringing women’s hearts closer to Jesus, as well as a member of the Advancement Leadership Council for the Western Dominican Province, executive or chair of many fundraising efforts, and currently resides in SF, working in tech and sampling avocado toasts.