We were walking along the Mexican beach late one night, some friends and I. We were on a mission. We scanned the water and the sand in the dark, ever-hopeful, waiting. Then one of my friends was pointing at the waves. We stopped, started, got closer. It was a giant sea turtle, careening in the shallows, making it’s way to the sandy beach. It was the season for turtles to come out of the ocean to lay their eggs. We felt like we’d just won a million dollars.
Our joy was short-lived. Being a wise and attentive turtle, it caught sight of us and, using it’s legs as nimble rudders, veered back into the ocean. While our excitement was somewhat squelched the wonder remained. We had just seen something beautiful for the very first time.
We saw a few more turtles that night, but one in particular was striking to me. When we discovered it, it was a long ways up the sand, looking for a good place to dig. We kept our distance, hoping to not disturb the life-giving process. Something tipped it off however, and it left it’s sand-searching to head back to the safety of the sea and to look out for a new and more private spot. It was obvious that sea-turtles were not well-suited to land. It would flap it’s front legs forward, and then drag its heavy body and shell a few inches further down the sand. Flap, pull, flap, pull. We continued to watch this pain-staking process for at least five minutes. The turtle probably felt it’s vulnerability; it knew it wasn’t alone. But it was resolute. Finally, it reached the edge of the surf and with a final heave, slipped below the waves. The Mexican turtle guardian who stood watch with us told us this might happen multiple times—the long journey out of the water, the discovery of an unsuitable spot, and the long journey back. It’s common for turtles to have to try several spots before they find one where all the elements are good.
What an awkward, vulnerable, long drawn-out process! What determination and patience this turtle must have to successfully lay it’s eggs! And seeing this turtle with the eyes of my heart, I wondered what God might be saying to me about the process of giving life in a spiritual sense. In my current ministry vocation I was definitely feeling out of my element, sometimes wondering if I was where I was meant to be. How many times had I felt awkward? How often did I feel vulnerable? How many days had I gotten impatient, and wanted to back out on this purposeful pursuit? Listening to the message of these silent speakers, I realized what a high cost there can be for the opportunity to give life. Here in the natural world, God painted a picture of what one might expect who is designed to give life—it might mean becoming a fish (sea turtle) out of water. And the possibility of giving up your own life in the process.
Living in a culture where comfort is king, and safety is a close second, is it any wonder we sometimes struggle to find life, or to live in life-giving ways? There was nothing comfortable or safe about what I experienced in that turtle’s pursuit of life. But it was beautiful. And unlike the sea-turtle, we have the freedom to choose whether it’s worth it.
So I am left with a decision. Do I embrace the pain and vulnerability that leads to life? Or do I stay hidden in the safety and comfort of my own sea? God, give me the courage and determination to be like a sea-turtle.