Life Out of Your Shell (from Besides Still Waters)
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might."
Ephesians 6:10, NJKV
IT IS SUCH A beautiful morning to be out on the lake, every time we come out I find something new that draws my interest, and today was no different. I was just sitting quietly waiting for a fish to decide that my worm was more suitable to his taste than my husband’s when I got this feeling I was being watched. I look around but didn’t see a thing, so I went back to my fishing. Again I felt the same thing, and again nothing. This went on for several minutes until I caught something out of the corner of my eye, just a little ways from the boat I noticed a turtle peeking its head above the water, but when I turned to look towards it, down it went. I sat there chuckling to myself as I played pick-a-boo with a turtle until my husband told me I was getting a bite. Darn missed it and he got my worm too! Oh well, I had fun just the same. We were out that morning for several hours and brought in a good catch, but I must confess I was distracted by my little friend. It’s not uncommon to see the turtles poking their heads above the water; the lake we live on is the home of at least five species, four aquatic and one semi-aquatic that I know of, ranging from 6 inches to well over a foot in size; one of my neighbors, that has lived here for many years, says he has seen one that had to have measured 3 feet. From spring through the fall they can be seen swimming beneath the water and sunning themselves on the lily pads or a fallen tree. When we are on the lake and my interest is drawn to something I know the Holy Spirit is about to give me a life lesson, that’s when I quietly pray for the eyes and ears of my understanding to be open to what my Teacher might have to say. As I sat there the Lord chose the turtle to remind me that for five years depression had been my hiding place, I had escaped into my shell and didn’t want to come out. Proverbs 12:25 state, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” I sat there in the stillness of the water with the suns warmth covering me like a blanket, I had never known such peace; I whispered “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7 NKJV)
The most common misconception of the turtle concerns its shell; which has two parts, the lower shell or plastron, and the upper shell, called the carapace. Both sections of the shell are fused together by 50 to 60 of the turtle’s bones; vertebrae make up the upper shell while the collarbone and ribs make up the bottom part of its shell. The shell is then covered with a fibrous protein forming an interlocking exoskeleton made up of plates called scutes; that overlap between the shell bones providing another layer of protection and strength. The two shells are connected by a bony bridge along the sides of the turtle. The misconception comes in by thinking that the armored like the shell of the turtle keeps it safe from its predators, but this is only true in part; you see the shell has both nerves and veins, and the turtle, seemingly lock safely inside, can feel pain or get sick if its shell is injured, and it can also feel pressure through its shell, the contract itself does not cause the turtle pain.
People are not much different from the turtle when we feel threatened we pull back into our shell trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt. Over the years we may have experienced abuse and every time we look at the scars we are reminded of the pain and anguish it caused. Perhaps when we sought help we received bad counsel from someone we looked up to for guidance that caused us to become depressed as our hope faded. Many turn to a trusted family member for help only to have them turn on you causing a different kind of pain. The cycle repeats itself over and over again until we think the only place we can hide is to pull inward, into a shell, so we can protect ourselves; but like the turtle, because of our past injuries, we can still feel pain. The word of God has always been a source of hope and encouragement to me; a dear friend, that has now gone home to be with the Lord, taught me early in my Christian walk to personalize His the word by inserting my name in passages and use them for prayer or praise. As I sat think about the turtle a scripture from Psalm 147 came to mind; “He healed my broken heart and bound up my wounds.” ( vs. 3 NKJV). Unlike the turtle's shell that when is severely damaged the likelihood of total recovery is slim, Jesus came to bear our grief and to carry our sorrow; He was wounded and bruised for our peace; all of this done that we could be healed in every way. Psalm 51:17 puts it this way, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart---these, O God, You will not despise.” (NKJV)
I have noticed another defense strategy commonly used by turtles, when they don’t want to be seen or feel threatened they will dive to the bottom and bury themselves beneath the murky surface; in a matter of seconds they can be completely out of sight; we too have such techniques, it is called fight or flight. Our first instinct is to run away or bury ourselves in something or someplace where we feel safe. At one point in my life when things were extremely stressful, I used my love for books as a means of escaping from reality. But there are those times when I felt threatened that I would become as aggressive as the snapping turtle with a bite designed to hurt you before you hurt me. Did you know that the common snapping turtle can clamp down with a force up to 656 newtons [measured unit of force], with this force his bite would cause considerable damage and possibly eliminate one of your fingers? Before I came to know the Lord my biting words could be just as damaging, all spoken in the name of self-preservation. Can you imagine how I felt when I read, “. . . For the mouth speaks what overflows from the heart. The good person brings forth good things from his store of goods, and the evil person brings forth evil things from his store of evil. Moreover, I tell you this: on the Day of Judgment people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken; for by your own words you will be accepted, and by your own words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37 CJB) Needless to say now that the Lord has given me a new heart I try my best not to allow evil words to come out of it!
There are many things that can cause us to withdraw into our shell or to hide beneath the muck of our lives, but we don’t have to stay there or remain a victim all our lives. I would like to share with you the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis; he was the eleventh son of twelve by his father Jacob. Joseph was a dreamer, only his dreams were from God; at the age of seventeen he was already envied by his brothers, so much so that they conspired among themselves to kill him, however, the plan changed, and Joseph was sold into slavery instead, and taken to Egypt where he was resold to an officer of the Pharaoh. After a while, he was falsely accused by his masters’ wife and thrown into prison, he had been there for some time before he was released and taken to the Pharaoh and it was there that he raised to power as Prime Minister of Egypt. Due to a series of events Joseph was reunited with his family and died at the age of 110 years old. The story is fascinating because it shows how the hand of God was in his life, even though his most difficult times. Did God cause all these bad things to happen to Joseph, no, it was the one who came to kill, steal, and destroy every believer, that impacted his life through the misguided acts of others? All through Josephs’ captivity the hand of God was seen: “. . . His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight . . .” (Genesis 39:3, 4 NKJV); and again, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21 NKJV) Remember when I said God was the one who gave Joseph his dreams, well it was the dreams that he shared with his brothers and father that pushed them over the edge with jealousy setting everything else into motion, and it was a dream that got him out of prison and yet another dream that caused him to find favor with the Pharaoh and eventually saved a nation and his people.