Shells of Self-Sufficiency

I like my turtle shell, my carapace of control. Sure, it may be bulky and limiting, but at least it is a familiar frame, a thick layer of defense. When life gets hairy and society feels scary, I can just minimize my world by ducking into my shell of self-sufficiency. My world will only be so large as can be controlled and contained by myself. It may be stuffy and stale in there, but at least it keeps me from being needy and vulnerable.

I paint my shell and make it look lovely, hoping to disguise it from appearing to be what it is, a hardened keratin shell. I even know the right words to say to the right people, the right amount of confession and vulnerability that feels admirable and palatable to the Christian world.

But if I am honest, I spend a lot of time in my shell, wanting to be self-sufficient, all the while espousing God’s grace.

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In the words of Eugene Peterson, God loves “…to crack the carapace of self-sufficieny so that we can experience the inrushing grace of the healing, merciful, forgiving God.” (To Run with Horses).

I admire and depend upon His diligence in this mammoth of task of stripping me from my own shell of self-sufficiency; however, I do not like it. Not one bit.

Yet, I find myself continually asking God to keep at it, as I know He will. I actually invite Him to expose me, which would be insane if it weren’t for the fact that His exposure is the most loving, freeing experience in the world.

As much as I love my shell, I love the warmth of unmitigated grace spread over me more.

In the midst of a long week of feeling out of control, I wrote this poem to help me fight the urge to turtle up. I do not want to miss the beautiful discomfort of being loved by a God whose favor I did not earn in ways that I cannot control.

A hard shell of self-sufficiency,
All patterned, painted and such,
Protects from pain and neediness,
But also prohibits so much. 

It’s all I’ve known of safety,
This shell of crowded cover.
But you slowly strip me of it,
Delightfully destructive lover. 

Chisel in scarred hand,
You diligently chip away,
Exposing me to elements,
Most notably the light of day.

Wringing me from my shell of self,
You will have me seen and known.
Only then can you present me,
Wholly and truly, your own. 

But stripping isn’t stranding.
A perfect cover stands by,
A Savior stretches over me,
Love deep and wide and high.


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