We have a pet Russian tortoise. His name is Howard. Part of why Howard is our pet is because I’m tragically allergic to anything with fur. Part of why he’s our pet is because all he eats is lettuce (I couldn’t stomach the whole feed a lizard live crickets thing – ick!). We also chose Howard as our pet because with an average lifespan of 110, he’ll outlive all of us.
Howard is cute with his bumpy shell and neck that stretches out when we rub under his leathery chin. But Howard is not brave. Instinctively an overwhelming noise, or an unexpected movement frightens Howard. At those times he retracts into his protective shell.
When do you crawl into your shell? When you’re called on in class? When you enter a club or party or meeting or practice where you don’t know anyone, at least not well enough to join into the conversation?
Maybe it’s not a place. Maybe it’s a person. There are certain people who make me feel like I’m five years old. When I’m around them, I crawl back into my little girl shell, shy of sharing my opinions and experiences, fearing my insights are insignificant, uninformed or they’ll be laughed at.
Or it could be a circumstance. Do you pretend you’re texting to avoid a difficult question or socially awkward moment? Do you turn your phone over if the caller equals confrontation? Do you go along with the crowd rather than sticking your neck out and suggesting a different approach or standing up for who or what you believe in? I don’t want to be that person, but sometimes it’s easier to crawl into my shell. It feels safer.
I’m sure Howard is quite happy. The life of a tortoise in captivity is peaceful, docile and rather uneventful. He’s warm and well fed and safe, and for a tortoise that’s enough. We also long to be warm and fed and safe, but God created us craving so much more.
We crave love and acceptance and a sense of worth and knowledge and adventure and usefulness. Yet none of those things can be achieved in the safety of our shells.
In the wild, a tortoise’s shell is a survival mechanism. Instead of being viewed as a meal to animals of prey, they could pass as a rock. Sometimes it is necessary for us to protect ourselves, so we don’t get eaten by this world’s birds of prey. But most of the time, we’d find the things that frighten us – risk of being rejected, risk of being wrong, risk of not making the team or not getting invited or not meeting someone’s approval - are actually opportunities to grow and to shine – to meet someone new, to learn a new perspective, to use our talents, to contribute, to feel proud and satisfied that we gave it our all.
In her new book, EVERYTHING, Mary DeMuth says, “There is always another risk God asks us to take. Always another adventure around the corner. But if we stay in the “good old days,” (I’m inserting ‘shells’ here) we won’t take those risks or live that adventure today. Yet we crawl back there, don’t we?”
It’s true. We let fears overtake the possibilities of today. We crawl back into our shells, where it seems safe and dark and quiet and no one and nothing can find us. But shells are dark and lonely. If we reach out of them, stretch our limbs and our hearts and our very selves, we can move forward and learn and triumph and experience.
DeMuth goes on to say, “Dare to be brave today, and trust that when you extend your wings, you will fly.”
Mark 14: 6-8 But Jesus said, "She has just done something wonderfully significant for me…She did what she could when she could."
What could you do today? Where could you climb out of your shell, reach out your neck and let the adventure begin?
Laura L. Smith