Building From our Weaknesses

In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly begins his chapter on Confession with an anecdote about Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. According to Kelly, when Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team, he asked the coach why. When told it was because his free throw was weak, Jordan undertook to make (not shoot, but actually make) five hundred free throws a day for ten years. That helped him to make it to college basketball, where he realized the weakness of his fade-away jump shot. He then focused on that until he mastered it. Woods, at a time when many already recognized him as a great, took time off from his pro tour to work on a weakness he had discovered in his swing, the correction of which led him to completely dominate the sport.

What Jordan and Woods had, Kelly suggests, was “an incredible ability to look at their game and identify both their strengths and their weaknesses. Once they have done this, they work tirelessly to make their strengths impenetrable and transform their weaknesses into strengths.”

While identifying our strengths and weaknesses are both part of our spiritual growth, Kelly suggests that the latter are more important than the former.

Your weaknesses are the key to the unimaginable bigger future that God has envisioned for you. Your strengths are probably already bearing all the fruit they can. They will continue to bear those good fruits in your life, but at some point they will begin to plateau. Your richer, more abundant future is intimately linked to your weaknesses.

Kelly uses the analogy of planting a field, where 500 acres are already producing wonderful fruit and an abundant harvest and 500 are completely neglected. Working to improve the first 500 acres may produce some increase in yield, but real growth requires transforming the neglected 500 acres.

I’m not sure I’d use precisely the analogy Kelly does, mostly because I think there are far too few people fully utilizing their strengths, and quite a number who haven’t even fully identified what those strengths are. So I think it is just wrong to say that “your strengths are probably already bearing all the fruit they can.”

But I have no disagreement with his point that we need to focus greater attention on our weaknesses, on those things that hinder us from being all that we can be. I think Kelly is absolutely right that our “abundant future is intimately linked” to recognizing and working to redress our weaknesses.