When I was growing up I had a number of different pets, one of which was a crayfish. I enjoyed the uniqueness of this pet, making sure it was fed, the water changed regularly, and the tank kept suitably clean. In the midst of caring for this pet, I went to school, hung around with friends, and lived the life of a young person. Sometimes I was not so diligent in my care of this crustacean. One day I went into my room to find the tank very very cloudy, and the crayfish curled up at the bottom, looking quite dead. I was disappointed and saddened that this unique pet had died. I was not looking forward to cleaning out the tank, and dealing with all of that. As I began the process, the crayfish moved, and began to shed its shell, revealing the growth and the fragility of the pet with its newly forming exoskeleton.
I will never forget my happiness and relief that day. I will also remember fondly the amazement I held as I saw this crayfish emerge quite a bit larger than the old shell that had contained him to that point.
At times I am reminded of the crayfish, when I reflect upon human growth, the growth of the Christian community, and the challenges that are present for people of faith as we move through life.
The image of the crayfish reminds me that as individuals and as a community, we like our boundaries. We like to have barriers, walls perhaps, but at least clear demarcations that indicate for us what is within our comfort levels, and what is beyond. At times I see that Christian communities are struggling to loose their shells so that they can grow, and create new boundaries to the limits of their ministry or influence.
At times also, I see that Christian communities have created barriers based on experience, that limit the creativity, ministry, and places where they might provide guidance, love, or care.
I believe these barriers are natural, as the church is composed of broken human beings. As an individual, I have been hurt, I have been burned. This has hardened me in some ways, and depending on situations, I become cautious. Perhaps like the crayfish, I protect myself by lashing out, or by using my tail to swim backwards, away from the situation, or the person.
This doesn’t only happen with my interactions with others. It happens when those I love and care for are faced with illness, disease, death. This happens when I am pushed beyond my comfort levels. This occurs when I am faced with new learning, and I am tempted to ignore or revert back to what I feel is comfortable within my own reality.
How on earth will we be able to grow in faith, if we are not challenged to shed our layers, and take up new learning, new loving, new ideas and hopes within Christian community? How will we be open to the movement and presence of the Spirit in our midst, and within those who might be beyond the barriers that we have self-imposed?
The life and days of my pet crustacean have long gone. I thank God that these lasting memories have given me a chance to look inward, and break open my shell so that I may let God in, let others in, and be transformed by my creator, by others, and by the community of faith.