You recognize the terrible tingly feeling that runs through your entire body as you feel the shell begin to molt. Begin to gently and somewhat painfully pull away one micro millimeter at a time. There is fear present. Smacking its gnarled teeth around the edges of your consciousness. There is excitement too. Quietly bubbling just beneath the surface. Expectation and hope keep each other company in matching armchairs on the porch of your mind. Waiting with a bowl of popcorn and some fizzy sugary soda between them. They’ve come to watch the entire sorry process. To contextualize it and give it some semblance of meaning.
And there you are, miserable, sorry wretch. Impotent, uncomfortable, wary, wriggling because you know that if you don’t work with nature, nature will work against you. The shell must come off. And you must sit quiet and vulnerable, trying to hold yourself together and not go stark raving mad through the entire process.
The shell must come off because as comfortable and homey as it has become it’s no longer roomy. It has become somewhat constrictive, somewhat confining. The shell must come off because you know that if it doesn’t that very shell that smells like fresh bread and vegetable soup and momma’s love; yes that very shell that has smacked of delicious comfort and love and protection; that shell that has become the very epitome of everything good and just and sacred; yes THAT shell will crush you. It will kill you slowly, imperceptibly, gently, like a warm bath that sits over a gently surging fire. It will kill you and you won’t even know it.
You know this instinctively not because anyone has sat you down and told you but because the still small voice in your heart is telling you that it is so. You know that it is time to allow it all to gently slough away and give rise to something better and bigger and brighter and roomier. You just need to keep this entire spiel in the center of your mind’s eye as you go through this process though because the endgame is always enticing but the process can be brutal. Well, fear not little crab-ling, this too shall pass and you will soon have a new house on your little back and it will be the best thing you ever did for yourself. So close your eyes, tighten your resolve and let this one go. The best is yet to come.
And no, I’m not just saying that to make you feel better. I have proof. Solid tangible evidence that things do work out and that letting go of the old to make way for the new, painful though it may be, is always worth it in the end.
Let me take you on a little journey through time, 500 years ago, to France, in the dim and dusty hallways of some of Catholicism’s most celebrated scholastic bastions. Let me introduce you to a slender and pale-faced young man. Studious, earnest and focused with a shell on his back about the same size as yours. His name is John Calvin.
Calvin’s mind was razor sharp and phenomenally absorbent. Daily, diligently, dutifully he lapped up every single morsel of church dogma that was given to him, holding out his plate for more with amazing speed. The professors loved him. The theologians had high hopes for him. He was shaping up to be the darling son of Catholic apologetics. He would take the church far, they were all so sure of it. And the church needed him, especially at this hour when the very air was rife with the heresy of Wittenberg. Luther’s ideas were everywhere and Le Fevre and Farel were poisoning the air with their own French brand of the German-born heresy. The Reformation was regarded as a spiritual plague that was sweeping through Catholic Europe at a speed that the church could barely keep up with. Perhaps Calvin would be their hope of emancipation from this wretchedness. But God had other plans for Calvin.
Calvin was in Paris and his cousin Pierre Olivetan sailed into town one day. Little did Calvin know that his life would never be the same again. Olivetan had spent time with Le Fevre, considered by many to have been the precursor of the Reformation in France. Olivetan was on fire with the gospel and as he saw Calvin’s devotion to Catholicism he felt it his duty to correct his course.
They spar with each other. Toe to toe, point for point, neither one willing to give an inch. Calvin thinks Olivetan is delirious with heresy, Olivetan feels the same way about Calvin. Then Olivetan leaps forward and unexpectedly strikes, inflicting the death blow,
“There are only two religions in the world” he declares “one is invented by man and leads man to think he can save himself by his own works; the other is invented by God and leads man to the Bible and Christ for salvation” “Enough of this” Calvin exclaims in defense “do you think I have lived in error all my life?”
Olivetan leaves and Calvin shuts the door of his room and sinks down against it. He begins to feel like the little crab-ling. His shell begins to feel tight, constrictive, unbearable. He begins to wrestle, praying, crying out to God for guidance. There is fear present. How can he let go of this shell? All of the tradition, the doctrine, the relationships. What will become of him? Where will he go? Will he burn in hell? The struggle is herculean. The shell begins to close in around him. It drags out over days and weeks. Hours of prayer. Hours of reading the Bible in the original texts.
And then Calvin begins to feel just like you do. Faced with the truth on one hand and his comfort zone on the other. The truth requires a change but it is always a change for the better. Calvin’s heart struggles with the reality that he must let go of his comfortable, roomy, homey shell, his beloved church in exchange for something new and unfamiliar but, based on what he was reading in the Bible, so much better.
And so he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and decides to exchange the old shell for something new and Christendom has been richer for that choice.
What about you? Is it time to put on a new shell?