The Story of the Homeless Hermit Crab

yareli-urzua-328804A couple years ago our family chose to withdraw from our community, our activities, and our volunteer commitments in order to pull back together, for that is what we sensed we needed.  As a result we are experiencing a quiet, slow season, which has proven to hold profound rest and simplicity, with equal amounts of discomfort and fear.  The path we’re carving is incredibly liberating, and freeing.  We have ample room to choose what to do, what to engage in, and what to leave behind.  That space has given us opportunity to sift through what is most important to us.  We have said “no” to a lot of opportunities in order to say “yes” to just being.  I have immensely enjoyed our quiet evenings and weekends, where we play, take care of household chores, and we rest.  I have loved having space, time and energy to invite friends over for dinner, movies, play dates and games nights without feeling an overwhelming dread of having to be on for yet another “thing”, even if that “thing” was valuable and desirable to us.  This season has in many ways been rich, like a breath of fresh air.  But as I mentioned it has also been uncomfortable.

As we have slowed down, new insights and revelations have had room to rise up.  I am noticing that I have changed.  I am feeling things I had previously numbed myself to, in an effort to protect myself.  And those protective measures which once seemed necessary have actually become unhelpful.  I am beginning to realize that I have allowed huge portions of my identity and sense of self be determined by forces, beings, groups, or trains of thought.  I have been disappointed and let down by this mold I have encased around me, and have found myself stepping out from underneath it for the first time.

It’s like I am like a hermit crab who had a shell that fit her quite nicely.  It was a beautiful and fitting home structured around my community, relationships, and the roles that I played.  That shell housed me and served me well for a long time;  it provided me with comfort, protection, and purpose.  Slowly though, that shell didn’t fit the way it once did.  It started to become so restrictive and tight that I parted ways with my shell and decided to go without it.  I walked away from my community and from roles I had played, and watched as relationships shifted.  Frameworks I had unknowingly erected suddenly didn’t make sense the way they used to.  This crab was unknowingly outgrowing her shell.  It is a natural process, yet it has proven to be surprisingly painful and uncomfortable, for I didn’t realize until I finally parted with my shell, how much I had depended upon it to provide for me.

After dropping that old shell, I did what seemed logical and began a search for a new one, but in all my searching, nothing has seemed quite right.  All I’ve seen are shells that may hold a little more wiggle room, or may offer a little more vibrancy, but are not all that different than the one I left behind.  What I see now may have worked for the old me quite nicely, but the new me needs more room, space to breath, consider, and explore and nothing around me seems adequate, let alone desireable.  The longer the search the less likely it seems a new home even exists.  The resulting despair takes me back to my old shell, my old patterns, habits and comforts, where I had safety, security, and protection.  But every time I’m tempted to climb right back in, I realize I can’t.  I’ve outgrown that old shell.  There’s no going back.

Along my journey I pass by other hermit crabs, and I admire their shells.  I see them hide in their shells when a predator is lurking, but I don’t have one, so I am left completely exposed and vulnerable, which has awoken great fears in me.  I find myself hypersensitive, spinning at the slightest movement, thinking I’m going to be eaten alive.  I know how things work.  I am the ready target for consumption.  But I haven’t been eaten yet.  Instead, I find I am floating, moving around with waves and currents that are much bigger and more powerful than me.  The weight of my shell used to keep me tethered to the seafloor, but now I catch myself entranced with the movements of the water, enjoying the simplicity of life without that weighty, protective measure bearing me down.

I find great freedom and delight to having rid myself of the old, to embrace the new.  I am slowly realizing that perhaps this season is not about finding a new home, for I’ve already found it.  It’s not a shell but the sea.  The invitation is to stop searching and simply enjoy and explore the big wide open sea, and see what happens.  Though that vast expanse of water can leave me feeling untethered and fearful, it also sparks a little joy and excitement for the fun, ease, and adventure that exists in just being and enjoying.

After having roamed the seafloor for years and having tasted the power, freedom and vastness of the open waters, I am scared, yet brave.  I am liberated and strong, yet weak and awkward.  This is all new and new can often be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Somewhere deep within me I am realizing that I was made for the open waters, which makes me wonder if I have thought myself a hermit crab, when all this time I was actually something altogether different and I’m just beginning to see myself as I am for the first time.

Photo Credit: Yareli Urzua

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