"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."
Human beings are complex creatures. There are aspects of our personality and habits that empower us to achieve. There are also aspects of our personality and habits that hold us back and cause harm. In the diagram above, you can see that the areas shaded in green represent our abilities. In contrast, the areas shaded in red represent our shortcomings.
The green abilities side is separated into three regions. There is a medium green section called "strengths." This section represents the talents we possess which we are aware of. The light green section, "capabilities," represents hidden talents which we have not activated or which we have not yet discovered. Spiritual gifts fit within the individual's abilities section. Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 tell us that God gives believers one or more spiritual gifts to use in order to do good and to serve others. Unfortunately, believers are often only partially aware of their spiritual gifts, hence this dark green area spans across the capabilities and strengths sections.
In a similar fashion, the red side, known as the shortcomings area, is separated into two regions. The medium red section is labeled "weaknesses." These are shortcomings that we are aware of. The light red section, called "blind spots," is larger and represents the shortcomings in our person which we are not cognizant of. Hebrews 12:1 calls us to fight off the sins that so easily trip us up. These are sometimes called besetting sins--harmful and selfish attitudes or behaviors that each person is especially tempted and afflicted by. This section is in dark red, and since besetting sins are not always obvious to us, they overlap both of the red sections which make up our personal shortcomings.
I would argue that an individual matures as they become more conscious of their abilities and shortcomings. In other words, as the individual gains a better understanding of their abilities (green region), their capabilities transform into strengths. Likewise, as the individual has greater insights about their shortcomings (red region), their blind spots become weaknesses. Moving into greater awareness of oneself is a key component of personal growth.
If this perspective is valid, it offers some fascinating implications. First, we are most effective when we are working from our strengths because that is where we are most productive. This is not a new insight. There has been some excellent research on this topic demonstrating this relationship (see Gallup's Clifton Strengths).
A second implication of my model relates to the red side of the diagram. Our blind spots constantly create problems in our life. They sabotage our goals and relationships and then slip away without notice, only to return again without warning. Like carbon monoxide, they are invisible poisons. And like carbon monoxide, to protect ourselves we must first become aware of their presence. By detecting blind spots we don't eradicate them, instead we transform them into weaknesses--shortcomings that we now recognize we have.
In the context of our verse of the day, let me expand on this second implication a bit more. While it may seem counter intuitive, our initial goal is not to eliminate our blind spots. We must first transform them into weaknesses. As we discover our blind spots we turn them into weaknesses. And weaknesses, because they are known to us, can be rooted out with confession and discipline.
Hebrews 12:1 calls us to cast off the sins that trip us up. I would argue that to do this requires the individual to be aware of their besetting sins. This discovery process requires deep and honest reflection, conversations with wise others who know us well, and a desire to fully understand these areas in our lives. Psalm 139:23-24 is an appropriate passage to take before God as we ask him to reveal our blind spots to us.
Sometime this week talk to a trusted family member or friend who knows you well and ask them to identify one of your shortcomings. Let them know that you are asking them because you want to become a better follower of Jesus and then give them some time to consider this question. Later, when you discuss this issue, be careful not to get defensive. Use the opportunity to listen and to consider how you can grow in your faith. If you do this, you will be able to strip off some of the weight that holds you down, and you will be better able to run the race that God has given you.
(New Living Translation; image created by author)