Hermit crabs exemplify an intriguing metaphor. By nature of their scientific class, crustacean, one could assume these crabs might carry their permanent protective coverings at all times. But this is not true of hermit crabs. These soft-bellied creatures take up residence in the discarded shells of other creatures. A hermit crab will inhabit its shell until it has grown to a point where it becomes uncomfortable and it seems it is no longer feasible to stay.
At this point, it has a choice: stay or go.
To stay in the current shell means that the crab’s growth will be inhibited and that it will no longer be able to protect itself by withdrawing fully into its protective armour. The other option is to begin a dangerous voyage between point A and point B. Transition. It would be folly to remain in the current shell. What was a protective abode, right for the season, has become a growth-limiting, tight space.
Ideally, the crab has its eyes set on the next shell it will inhabit, but this is not always the case and, even when it is, there is always risk. The hermit crab must endure a season of incredible vulnerability as it leaves the ‘too small’ shell in search of its next dwelling.
How many times have I felt like a hermit crab, somewhere between point A and point B? These are the phases of life when it has become obvious that I can no longer stay in my current situation, but the next step remains hidden from me. This state of limbo, teetering on the precipice of change, is daunting. If I leave the safe confines of what I know in search of what is next, I’ll be completely exposed and vulnerable. Who knows how long the journey will even take? My soft, unprotected, shell-less body will be disadvantaged and open to all kinds of attacks.
I contemplate whether or not it would be better to stay put, but honestly, this option, though seemingly less risky, doesn’t work either. I have grown beyond what this current place can offer or protect; it no longer fits! And so, like the hermit crab, I have to decide whether to stay safe and stop growing, or embrace vulnerability and grow. There is a quote by an unknown author that I adore and despise in equal parts: “There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.” No sane person would choose discomfort, but turning away from growth equates to turning away from becoming who we were created to be. And so, with gritted teeth, I’ll continue to choose growth over comfort.
My transition journeys often begin with hope and determination. Though I may or may not have a sense of what is next, I begin in faith and lean hard into God’s promises. This feeling of adventure and ‘whatever it takes’ usually sustains me for a while. Though I do my best not to have concrete ideas about what it all means and how it will play out, my personality is such that there is usually a very detailed map lurking somewhere just beneath my consciousness. “Laid back” is not a descriptor that has ever been used for me, though I am learning to allow life to unfold. When the vulnerable journey between shells takes longer than anticipated, which it inevitably does, there are a couple of traps that I have learned to recognize, only by nature of having fallen into them about seven billion times.
There have been times (A LOT of times) that I, like the Children of Israel, have longed to return to a metaphorical Egypt. At least in Egypt, I knew the rules! I may have been a slave and it might have been subsistence living, but I knew what to expect and could make do with what was, even if it wasn’t always enough! My temptation partway into a journey can be to return to what I knew, to what was known and comfortable, even if it wasn’t right. Steeling myself to resist the urge, I continue moving forward.
A second stumbling block I often encounter in the interim is the desire to settle. There are times when I’ve been annoyed with God because it seemed that we were marching past perfectly good shells! “This is GOOD ENOUGH, God. Let’s stop here. I’ll be content with this!” The lure of the ‘good enough’ is almost stronger than the lure of ‘what was.’ The adage “the good is the enemy of the best” is certainly what’s at play here. Though these shells would work, they are not the end goal; not the best that the Lord has planned and purposed. One of my all-time favourite scriptures says “For the revelation awaits an appointed time. It speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay” (Habakkuk 2v3). In other words, hold out for the best because the promises are true! Do not settle.
As much as I would love to avoid the whole process of transition, I recognize that there is purpose in the process. Growing pains are aptly named and the aching means something is happening. It’s not a random, meaningless discomfort, but a purposeful plan that will certainly come and not delay. God is not making this up on the fly. He knows what he is doing and where he is going. He sees the end, even when I cannot. And his plans are good. No, not just good, the BEST.
And so, I allow it to unfold. I lean in and trust that he will hold me safe. I will embrace seasons of vulnerability, of feeling unmoored, of feeling homeless, of feeling exposed without my protective shell…knowing the reward will be great. The best.