A good friend of mine got an award in recognition of his work with a charity that teaches job skills to men in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been their scissors, cutting them through all the red tape required to actually be able to support people. As a lawyer, he has the skill set needed for the job. As a Christian, he has a driving motivation to give himself for the sake of others, just as God has given to him. Still, he was modest:
“A lot of people could have done it.”
Which is true, I’m sure. The thing is, they didn’t. The charity didn’t need people who could do the job. They needed someone who would do it. My friend was (and is) that person, and I say the world needs a lot more like him. And it doesn’t always have to be complicated or specialised. Often the most helpful acts of support and kindness are also some of the most mundane – the kinds of things almost anyone could do.
Economics has taught us that non-specialised skills have less value. Supply and demand and all that. But economics is wrong about people. It’s true that there are times when we find ourselves in need of specialists – surgeons, counsellors, architects and pilots and such – and in those moments, it’s a good thing for all of us that people have developed these skills. It’s also true that the world is always in need of the non-specialised abilities that all of us are capable of using: Love. Friendship. Shared time. A listening ear. A hard day’s work. Loyalty. Respect.
When my friend works for the charity, he uses his legal skills, yes, but he also gives time, effort, care, and love for his work and the people it helps – gifts that any of us can give for the sake of the people around us. Without these ordinary skills, his specialised legal abilities would be useless to the charity, like those of so many others that could have helped, but didn’t. As the apostle Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, impressive skills are nothing without love.
It turns out that the economics are upside down: the most common abilities are actually the most needed of all. Without them, nothing else works properly. Yet these skills are within the reach of any of us, no matter how much or how little formal training we may have had, because God built them into us when he made us in his image. These are the things that literally anyone can do. We were specially designed for them. But will we?