Sometimes, you just have to come out of your shell.
It’s an expression we use to say we need to get out of our comfort zones, to get back up again and to try one more time. That cliche of “coming out of your shell” is born from watching the defensive actions of an actual turtle.
You know, turtles. (Not the variety that are teen-aged and mutants). Turtles are those little reptiles with four legs and a shield that offers protection and defense from the world outside. When turtles sense danger around them, they instinctively retreat back into their shells. It’s a move that offers protection from some force at work around it.
So have you ever felt like a turtle?
Maybe it was the moment you heard bad news and you had to retreat back into your shell. Or, it was the loss that you suffered and curling back up into your shell offered you space to heal. Maybe, life didn’t work out quite the way you thought it would and you pulled back into your shell to regroup and get a chance to see a way forward.
Have you ever felt like a turtle?
Have you retreated into your shell?
I think that’s how I feel today. I’m somewhere at the edge of my shell. I’m caught in the battle between safety and security and the willingness to put my neck back out there again.
That shell for me is a product of poor choices, pain, illness and safety. There’s nothing wrong with staying there for awhile, but I know that life moves on outside my shell. Maybe that is why I feel like a turtle caught in the tug of war. Do I want to try and experience the ups and downs? Do I want to stay where I am and feel somewhat safe and secure?
It’s not an easy decision to make once you’ve experienced life in the shell. There’s a natural tendency in life to choose comfort over discomfort, to opt for smooth over rough, etc.
Maybe that’s why I was drawn to John 15. It seems to speak to that place where I find myself pulled — do I stay in the shell or do I push out of the shell again?
In John 15, Jesus is speaking to his followers and he gives them the image of the vine. In that statement, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches that abide in the vine. Jesus has much to say about that image, but it’s what comes in verse 16 that sticks out for those caught in the shell of life.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16, NIV)
I know this walks a tightrope between some denominational lines, but do you see where Jesus starts? He says you (and me, and everyone else who follows) did not choose Jesus. We didn’t choose the life outside of the shell and everything that comes with it.
When you are ordained, you are always ordained to a purpose. In this case, you are ordained to serve, to love, and to be fruitful in your relationship with Jesus. All of that is not your choice — it’s the will of God.
No, the choice was entirely Jesus’ choice to make and he does far more than “choose.” To describe what this means, things are going to get a little tricky. The word used in the NIV Bible is “appointed.” Other translations refer to this word as “ordained.” What that really means is that you didn’t choose Jesus, he chose you and then he ordained you to a purpose. When you are ordained, you are always ordained to a purpose. In this case, you are ordained to serve, to love, and to be fruitful in your relationship with Jesus.
What does that ordained/appointed word really mean? Strong’s Concordance refers to ordained as being set apart, being placed. So, Jesus, in choosing us, sets us apart for the purpose of bearing fruit. That’s well and good, but there is a deeper meaning here for those who feel like turtles and who have retreated into their shells. Ordained also means to lay off, to lay aside and to carry no more.
That’s where I feel kicked squarely in the heart. I didn’t choose it, but Jesus chose me and then he took my shell that I want to live in and he laid it aside for a bigger purpose.
Maybe that’s hard to hear. Maybe it’s hard to hear because your “shell” from the world is built of a set of circumstances, situations and pieces of events that no one else really understands. That’s the point: every “shell” is deeply personal. Yet, John reminds us that in choosing us and ordaining us, Jesus is taking that very personal, sometimes crippling shell, and he’s laying it aside for the bigger purpose of bearing fruit.
It makes me feel so much like a turtle again.
I read a story recently about turtles and it said that when it’s time to lay eggs, turtles will get on a mission. They stick their necks and feet out of their shells and they start the journey to nesting grounds. Sometimes those journeys will test the limits of the turtles shell. The journey places a turtle on a road, on asphalt, as it tries its best to “get to the other side.”
There’s a group of turtle lovers who have devoted themselves to helping turtles cross the road. Sometimes, they stand on the road and hold back the cars as the turtle carries its shell across the road. Sometimes, the turtle watchers will simply pick the turtle up, take it across the road, and then put it back on the ground so the journey can continue.
Maybe that’s the promise for all of us living in our shells. Jesus has taken on the role of turtle lover and turtle enthusiast. He’s positioned himself on the road to block the traffic and help us cross to better ground. Sometimes, he reaches down and picks us up out of the place we find ourselves and he then he sets us down in a place where the journey can continue.
Yet, that requires something. I, you, we have to be willing to let go of the shell. We have to be willing to let it be laid aside and we have to be willing to follow Jesus. No matter what.
At the end of the day, letting go of our shells is simply another way of saying that we need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones. We have to be willing to let go of everything that holds us back. We have to be willing to let Jesus show us the way across the road.
It reminds me of Casting Crown’s song, “Voice of Truth.” The singer talks about a decision to “step out of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is, and he’s holding out is hand.”
Do you feel like a turtle?
Do you feel confined by your shell? Are you ready to let go and let Jesus do what Jesus does.
Maybe it is time to poke your head out of the shell and start to experience life again.
ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it. You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.
i love this
Great devotional. I texted you back in April and asked for your permission to use one or two of your COVID-19 devotionals in my church newsletter. You graciously told me I was welcome to use them. I’m using “Getting out of your shell to find your God-given purpose” in my September of the Covenant Call, my church newsletter. I really appreciate your work and my readers have told me how much they enjoyed reading your stuff.
Again, thank you! Sam Allen editor of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant