Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What we can learn from the ‘bipolar’ penguin

Photo credit: Martin St-Amant/Wikipedia

Penguins are my favourite animals. From the time I could talk, family zoo trips centred around one thing and one thing only: penguin feeding time. Nothing came between me and my penguins.

After years of study, the conclusion I’ve come to is that penguins are kind of bipolar. On land they waddle in such a delightfully ungainly way it almost breaks my heart. Even fully grown penguins look like clumsy toddlers when they’re on the ice.

But once they’re in the water they are sublime. They glide through the water with utter grace and ease. If you’ve ever been to an aquarium where they swim over your head you will understand the true joy that only penguins can bring.

I think humans can be a bit like that too. When we’re doing something we love we dive straight in. But if it takes us out of our comfort zones we take much smaller, waddlier steps, praying no-one will push us in.

So what can we do about this? Well first, we should make the most of the skills we have. Whether you’re a great doctor, a talented musician or a meticulous cleaner, it’s great to use our gifts to benefit ourselves and others.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a story about three servants who are given ‘talents’ (coins) to look after, and grow, for their master. The first two double what they were given, while the third simply buries his in case it gets stolen. His ‘lack of talent’ results in his coin being taken from him and given to one of the others, who is sure to make use of it. The message is simple: use it or lose it.

Now I don’t like to boast, but I’m an expert hugger. Even before my penguin craze began, my parents could pass me to anyone and I would throw my chubby arms around their necks with glee – to the great surprise of several Santas we visited. It’s something I enjoy for the effect it produces in me and because is an act of giving to someone else. Simple as it is, I believe this is a gift and I intend to use it.

Photo credit: Ken Funakoshi/Wikipedia

But what happens when we’re tested in an area of minus talent? Ask me to evacuate a spider or climb a tall building and I will fall to pieces (not literally in case you thought that was another of my gifts). Ask me to draw a picture or play the oboe and I’ll just laugh. Give me a medical chart and a scalpel and I’ll run away as fast as I can (not very, as chance would have it).

So should I berate myself for my shortcomings? I don’t think so. We can’t be good at everything, right? But there are three important principles here. The first is that we shouldn’t accept failure without giving things a good go. Didn’t your granny tell you that “if you don’t at first succeed, try, try, try again”?

Secondly, if it’s something we’re not good at but NEED to be, we should ask for God’s help. Peter didn’t think he could walk on water until he gave it a go and fixed his eyes on Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33). It was his fear that nearly drowned him, not his (or God’s) inability.

Finally, God can work through us whatever our limitations. Just look what Moses achieved despite having a severe speech impediment. Paul points out that God’s power is actually made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So rather than doddering by the side of the pool like penguins, stumbling over every obstacle in our way, let’s jump in and at least make a big splash. We might not be graceful gliders right away, but it’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. We can trust God to do the rest.

Please feel free to leave comments. You can read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine and in its sister publication, Liberti. If you love penguins, you'll love this clip.

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