Are You The ‘Mystery’ Tool On A Swiss Army Pocket Knife?

I’ve owned a Victorinox Swiss Army pocketknife like this since a school trip to Switzerland more years ago that I care to remember. Over all of those years I’ve used it a lot, or rather I’ve used most of it a lot.

When I was looking at it a few days ago, something struck me, made me stop and think. There’s a tool on the Swiss Army pocketknife that I hadn’t used so much, in fact I wasn’t even sure what it was for. The thing next to the corkscrew, with an odd blade, a sharp point, and a hole in the middle. So, I asked some people I knew; some thought it was for taking stones out of horses’ hooves, or for trimming nails, or even a scribe to score paper or card.

And, as I thought about this some more, I realised that the Swiss Army pocket knife, and the particular tool I was looking at, makes a great metaphor for many of us who, as children’s workers, parents, practitioners or passionate supporters, care about children and young people with special/additional needs or disability.  We all need to have a toolkit of things available to us to help everyone we are caring for; we need to be versatile and agile, we need to multi-task, and we all have that one thing that nobody else understands, nobody else knows how to do, and that we get instinctively and can do naturally.

A Swiss Army pocketknife, being a knife, has to have a blade. Often in the special/additional needs world, we need to be able to cut through the red tape, to slice through the bureaucracy, to get the support, provision or funding that our child needs.

Then there is the saw. Sometimes it feels like overnight a thicket of barriers has grown around us, making it hard to get anywhere, to do anything. The answer is always “no”, always “you don’t meet the criteria” (which constantly change). We have to continually work to open up a way through these barriers, never giving up, always holding on to hope.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if they have a screw loose as they keep on struggling to make a difference for their child and others. But all of these children are worth it, they need us to have a screwdriver in our toolkit to keep ourselves together and on-track.

It’s not unusual for us to have to open up things that others would rather we didn’t, as we use our can opener to open yet another can of worms with school, church, social services, medical professionals or others!

And some days, when it’s all been really rough, we might well need to reach for that corkscrew as we look forward to just a few snatched moments of relaxation with a nice glass of wine!

But what about that mystery tool? The one that nobody seems to be able to identify? Well, it’s nothing to do with horses’ hooves, it isn’t for our nails either, and it’s in rather a difficult position to use as a scribe. It’s an awl or punch, a tool for making a hole in leather or canvas. The hole in the awl is for passing thread through if being used to carry out a repair on a tent. Makes perfect sense when you know doesn’t it?

So, with many of the Swiss Army pocketknife tool metaphors being common among us, I leave you with this question. What does the awl mean for you? What is it that you know that others don’t? What can you do that others can’t? What are the gifts, skills and talents that you have? And how can you change things so that, unlike the Swiss Army pocket knife awl, people know what you are brilliant at, recognise you for it, and so you get to do it more and more.

As I pondered on this, I felt that God was using this simple metaphor to tell me more about myself, about how he has made me, what he has made me for and to be. What about you? What has God given you your gifts for to be? What is your ‘thing’?

Paul, the apostle and tentmaker (he would know how to use an awl!), wrote to the Corinthian church telling them that the body of the church has many parts; that we can’t all be a foot or an eye or an ear (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Only if the whole body works together can we be effective. We all have a perfect, God given, role in which we can do the most good, be the most effective. I now understand what my role is; I hope and pray that you will find yours too.



27th January 2017, updated 25th February 2019

Image rights: © Victorinox (header), © author (in article)

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