Sometimes it seems as though the plate of my life is filled to overflowing with tasks to do and missions to accomplish. It has been my plan to add the word "no" to my vocabulary to slow the pace of life a bit. But like many of the plans in my haversack, it never seems to see the light of day. Each day seemingly brings new things to do and more friends to help.
Why do I end up doing so much? Why can't I find a way to limit my activities? Is this constant motion part of some great plan for my life? Please forgive me for starting this commentary with so many questions. It is just that I have been searching for an answer.
Just when you think that an answer will never appear, poof, it jumps right out of the bushes at you. Some folks call these "oh s--- moments", while others call them "hallelujah moments." In either case, a potential answer for my questions began to appear right in front of me. It was my great fortune to hear an outstanding sermon in church the other day. This is the year when our congregation is celebrating its 150th Anniversary of its founding in 1856. As part of the celebration, guest preachers with a connection to our congregation are coming in to share the Word with us. This sermon to which I make reference was delivered by the Reverend David Dethmers, Coordinator of Mission and Stewardship for the Reformed Church in America.
Reverend Dethmers was the first associate minister in the history of our church when he arrived in 1973. The basis for his sermon came directly from the Book of Matthew. The thought he provided, which stuck with me, is really quite simple indeed. To those who are given much, much is expected. He challenged each of us in the congregation to take stock of ourselves and assess the gifts which God had given to us.
He asked each of us to mentally list those things we believe to be our greatest personal assets. As you might imagine, my pen was busily at work logging my thoughts. It came to me that far too many people in the fire service fail to use the gifts with which they have been entrusted. Worst yet, there are many in positions of leadership who work fulltime to insure that people in their organization never get an opportunity to exercise their God-given talents. In the whole scheme of things, this is really sad.
Reverend Dethmers suggested a three-part method for coming to grips with our own sense of what we possess in the way of gifts. He provided a way in which each of us can become more productive people. In the first place he asked us to identify our gifts. He asked us to be honest. He suggested that this was not a time for inflating our credentials.
He next suggested that we should actually do something with our gifts. This is an excellent point my friends. What good are gifts if we choose never to use them? Sort of like having celestial socks in your drawer from last Christmas and never choosing to wear them.
Then he said something that I just never got around to thinking about. He stated that we must justify our gifts. How should we do this? To whom should we justify them? Why do we have to justify our gifts? These were all questions which swirled around in my head waiting for an answer. Imagine my friends; he wants me to justify what I am good at.
Initially I was not quite sure about what he meant. How in the world could I ever justify what it is that I am good at? Fortunately, his words of explanation were quite simple indeed. He went on to suggest that we must use our gifts to make a difference in the world. What good are riches if they are kept hidden under a mattress in your bedroom? What good is being intelligent if you fail to do anything with what you know? What good is a wealth of talent and ability if it is never used?
The true point of his message began to burst forth within the confines of my brain. Each of us is placed on this earth for a purpose. We are supposed to do things. If we fail to accomplish these tasks then we may well be accused of wasting the precious few moments with which we are blessed during our lives. His words then caused me to begin pondering the methods of a particular person whom I have known for decades.
This person has traveled far and wide attending all sorts of classes, drills, and seminars. His file of certificates must surely take up a great deal of space somewhere. He is quite proud of what he has learned. Unfortunately he has never done anything to proactively share his knowledge with others. What a great waste is the unused gift of knowledge which has been amassed in this man's brain.
Perhaps you also know people like this. I can recall another acquaintance who took great pains to acquire a most attractive resume, as well as a real fine professional tool set. He became an expert, at least to my way of thinking, in some really technical areas. Sadly, he was a man who did not like to share.
When asked for assistance with a technical question, he would often be heard to say, "I learned it myself, why don't you do the same." Perhaps he was a bit blunter than that. This person had a real way with words. He was one of those people who became so obnoxious that his terse rejoinders might actually be able to piss off the Pope, as we used to say in the big city. What a shame. This person could have become a true force for good in their department, but they chose to become a selfish knowledge miser.
Reverend Dethmer's words caused me to do some deep soul-searching. As I worked to assess my own gifts I found that I was having trouble defining those things at which I excel. He also stressed something that ran counter to much that I have read and heard during my career.
He suggested that we should not devote too much time to our weaknesses. Chasing the demons within can take time away from productive endeavors. This can frustrate us and keep us from doing the great things which are within our ability to accomplish. I guess that means I should cut down the time I spend on my listening skills. The same holds true for my weight problems. I will chip away at my volumetric dysfunction issues, but not become a slave to it.
Perhaps it is because I have been doing so much for so long that I have lost sight of what I really should be doing. I need to take the advice of a dear friend, and Brother Mason, Steve Austin of Delaware. We spend a great deal of time working together on the highway safety programs that can be found on www.Respondersafety.com.
Whenever he and I start to stray from our focus of preventing highway struck-by incidents for fire, police, and EMS, he offers the following sage advice. "We need to tend to our own knitting." What he means is that we shouldn't split our efforts trying to do things that are not a part of our mission. Perhaps there is a tie-in between Reverend Dethmer's advice to find and use our gifts and Steve's advice to keep our focus on the mission we have chosen to pursue. Maybe this is the way that we need to approach the identification and use of our individual gifts.
It is my belief that my skills as a teacher are pretty good. I love to interact with people and strive not to bore my students or waste their time. Many years ago a friend in Wisconsin told me this. He said that I brought a certain amount of excitement to my presentations. This gentleman urged me to maintain my love and excitement for the world of instruction.
This same man also told me to pack it in as an instructor when I no longer had a love for people. I have kept his words in my heart for more than 20 years. It is sometimes tempting to go through the motions when teaching a course for the hundredth time. This is not how I work. It is not easy to keep this focus, but my heart is still in it. I pray that I never lose my love for teaching.
Now that I am a member of the on-line faculty in the Executive Fire Officer