Have you ever seen a seemingly empty seashell suddenly start moving along the sand? Or even more shockingly, discovered that a shell you’d recently found on the beach mysteriously changed locations on your counter?
If so, then you’ve probably witnessed a hermit crab in action. They live alone, within salvaged empty seashells, due to their own physical vulnerability. The crab is forced to peek outside the protective shell to move, and as the crab moves, so does the shell.
As a hermit crab grows, he is forced to relocate to a larger empty shell. And during that transition…the time of moving between shells…the crab is particularly vulnerable.
What an analogy to life! Perhaps you are experiencing a changing season in your own life and can relate to the vulnerability of the little hermit crab.
Moving or downsizing? Starting a new job in a new city? Adjusting to an empty nest? Retiring? Getting married? Facing life alone due to the loss of a spouse?
Change, change, and more change. Some of it, for happy reasons. Some of it, as a result of circumstances completely outside our control.
As we grow (and age), we often are forced to change our “shells” or surroundings. Every season of transition has its challenges and stresses, and we might feel especially vulnerable.
I have several young friends who have recently moved to new cities in pursuit of their careers. Yes, each one has expressed excitement about the new opportunities. But they’ve all also shared how lonely it can be at times, and how much they long for friends and for connecting with a community of like-minded people.
What can we learn from the hermit crab? And how can we approach our own times of change, accept our vulnerabilities, and survive the transitions?
Here are seven lessons for those challenging seasons of life:
-Realize that change is a constant in life. Nothing stays the same forever. Accepting the truth that change is part of the human condition, and that everyone faces change, helps us feel less isolated. Personal growth always requires change of some sort. Look at the hermit crab who has to move to a larger shell as he grows.
-Remember that the times of feeling alone and vulnerable won’t last forever. Often, the chill of loneliness feels like it will never end. But it will.
-Stretch yourself and step into uncomfortable situations. Force yourself to meet new people. Invite an acquaintance to coffee. Take a class. Visit a church. Try a new sport. Travel, even if you hate to dine alone. You’ll be amazed how much you grow by stepping outside your “comfort zone.”
-Serve someone less fortunate. There’s nothing that helps our “half empty” perspective more.
-Keep a gratitude journal. Find three or four reasons to say “thank you” to God every day, even if it’s as simple as having eyesight or the ability to walk. Write them down. Then, when you've feeling especially low, look back over all your reasons to be thankful.
-Memorize a verse of Scripture and repeat it to yourself frequently. One that carried me though my dad’s cancer battle was Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Even if you don't "feel" what you're saying, repeating truth will strengthen you.
-Remember and reach out. Once you’ve adjusted to your new life, don’t forget the loneliness and vulnerability you once felt. When a friend is going through their own time of transition, find ways to encourage them. A handwritten note, a small, unexpected gift, a visit to see your friend in their new city are among the many ways to help. Remember what really helped you most. Then, pay it forward.
You might feel like you're totally exposed right now as you deal with your changing life. Don't lose heart. Your new "shell" will be better than you ever hoped or imagined.