The following story, told by Dr. Chuck Swindoll, shows a graphic picture of today’s society as we almost kill ourselves trying to do all things well and attempt to do everything there is to do.
In his book, “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life,” Dr. Swindoll writes, “Once upon a time, the animals decided that they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world, so they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer, all of the animals took all of the subjects. The duck was excellent at swimming; in fact he was better than his instructor. However, he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was so slow, he had to drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused his webbed feet to be badly worn, so he became only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, therefore nobody worried about it — except the duck. The rabbit stayed at the top of his class in running but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because he had so much make-up work to do in swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down, so he only got a “C” in climbing and a “D” in running. The eagle was a problem child and was severely disciplined for being a nonconformist. In climbing classes, he beat all of the others to the top, but he insisted on using his own way of getting there.”
Since Chuck Swindoll is a Christian writer, he was probably referring to Spiritual gifts, telling this story to emphasize using your gifts and talents, developing them, and letting the rest go. But this story can speak to one on many different levels.
I can remember the day that I, as an adult, realized that I didn’t have to do everything asked of me. I am not sure why I felt that I couldn’t say “No” to requests. I have mentioned before that I did not recognize a specific gift or talent, so I tried to do way too many things. It was like a light bulb over my head when I realized that when I said, “Yes” to a project that I could not do well, it was likely robbing another person of the opportunity to do something that person did well and enjoyed. I had been asked to make a bulletin board for the church hallway; not only am I terrible at making bulletin boards, I do not enjoy working on them. I had worried and procrastinated and dreaded it. On the day when I walked into the church, a young woman, new to our congregation, was in the hall. I told her what I doing there, and I’m sure that she could “read my face” and see that I did not want to do it. She volunteered to do this job, made a wonderful bulletin board effortlessly, and seemed to enjoy doing it. Her gift made both of us happy.
I have come to realize that when we work in an area of giftedness, we not only enjoy it, but it energizes us, as well. Several years ago, I read a book by John Maxwell, a writer of leadership books, and this astounding, life-changing statement stopped me in my tracks. He wrote, “In leading, only do what only you can do.” Wow, does that hit you as hard as it hit me? That requires many “no’s” in order to do the “yeses.” How much happier we would all be if we could say “yes” and “no” at the right times. The key to a life of fulfillment is in finding those “good works” that were laid out for us to do and being able to say “no” to those things which only bring us frustration.
I am not sure what this story says to educators and students; perhaps it is a stretch to take the subject any further, but it makes me think that helping students to recognize their inborn talents should be an important part of education. There is a balance, of course, because if we do not introduce things to students beyond their experience and expertise, they may not find their areas of specialty. There is a lot to think about in this simple animal story.
Living in a small community and going to a small school often offers students a chance to try new things, to unfold the talent or have the opportunity to help others in a special way. It stretches individuals into situations because “a job needs to be done.” I like that about our town. If we don’t have a “special expert” available, we often become the person to do the job and find out that indeed we can do it. That is good. I see our high school students find out new things about themselves as they fill in gaps in their daily walk. I was at Harlan High School’s Christmas music program last year and saw the BEST Santa Claus there that I think I have ever seen. It was fantastic the energy and love that emanated from him. I later found out that it was one of my best friends in that suit, doing this deed for the joy it brought to one of the special students in the school. Joy, real Christmas joy, filled that gym because a Santa was needed and a Santa was found.
We are not all greatly talented or gifted, but we all have special abilities that can be used to bless those around us. We need to encourage ourselves and others not to crowd out those special gifts by trying to do just anything that people ask us to do. Be that duck with courage; don’t let people tell you that you must run and fly. You do that swimming that you were made to do; enjoy it, and bless the world around you.
(You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)