When I was younger, I had a pet hermit crab. I’d found the sweetest little salt-water crab on the beach, but my parents told me that I couldn’t keep “Hermie” since we didn’t have a saltwater fish tank at home and weren’t about to invest in one. Instead, they bought me a fairly large-sized, land-abiding hermit crab and a little plastic carrying case at one of the island souvenir shops. I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand why anyone would want a hermit crab for a pet, but at this time, it was all the rage, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
At the store they explained to me that as hermit crabs grow, they need to change shells. The shell is like their permanent home and they have to find one that fits them just right, so it would be important for me to have a couple of different-sized shells around so that the newly-dubbed “Hermie the Second” could make the transition when the time came.
When I got Hermie home, I was filled with the excitement that any new pet brings. I enjoyed watching him crawl along the living room floor or across the bottom of the bath-tub (which is where I would leave him to play for extended periods since he didn’t require supervision.) Per the advice of the man at the souvenir shop, I would leave the bath-tub filled with shells of different sizes, just waiting for the day when Hermie would make his move.
But as I suppose happens all too often with small pets, soon the novelty of Hermie wore off. I was too busy to fill up the bath-tub with shells and little cups of water whenever I had to leave, and it became increasingly easier to just leave him in his cage, forgotten. Then one day, a friend of mine came over to play and I thought how cool it would be to show off my pet hermit crab.
“Would you like to meet Hermie?” I asked, as I ran to the bathroom to pull his cage out from its hiding spot. But to my surprise, when I held up the cage, I found Hermie dead, his body detached from his shell. I was horrified. It was the first time I had seen Hermie out of his shell, and he looked so delicate and fragile. Of course, I had my friend to think about, and it was quite embarrassing to show a friend your dead pet, so I tried to redirect her attention and tuck him away as quickly as possible before she knew what a horrible pet owner I was. And that, my friends, was the end of poor Hermie.
This week I had cause to think about Hermie as I paused to think about spiritual growth. As Christians, we are meant to be in a state of constant spiritual growth. We should not be content with the same degree of faith for 5, 10, 20 or 50 years, any more than Hermie was content to stay in his same shell for the brief period of his lifetime. Instead, we should be seeking to have our faith enlarged and deepened each and every day.
It’s interesting to me how much stock we put in physical growth. We have all sorts of measures that help us to determine if a child or adult is on pace physically and/or developmentally. And if a child shows signs of being behind, it’s often a major cause of worry for the parents who wonder what other difficulties this lack of growth might foreshadow.
But rarely do we become so concerned with our spiritual growth. In fact, there are many Christians who have grown very little in the many years since they accepted Christ. This truth is reflected in the fact that oftentimes our churches are filled with spiritual babies when they should be filled with the spiritually elderly. There are people who have known Christ for their whole lives, but somehow they never began to feel like their “shell” was too small — like there was more for them to know and experience of the Lord. And so, I imagine, they became complacent, and later, stunted in their growth.
I don’t know about you, but as I consider my own spiritual growth, sometimes I think that I should be in a much bigger “shell” than I am by now. I should trust more. I should have a deeper, more unshakable faith. I should pray and commune with God more, and more naturally than I do. After all these years, it seems like that would only be right. But spiritual growth takes work and discipline. It also requires desire. As Oswald Chambers said: “The time that elapses between new birth and total sanctification depends entirely on the believer.” This is certainly something worth pondering.
I believe that we need to begin looking at lack of spiritual growth as a cause for great concern. After all, look at what happened to poor Hermie the Second. When he couldn’t grow, he died. And I think sometimes the same is true in our faith. If our faith isn’t growing, then maybe, just maybe, it’s dying. (Don’t misunderstand me on this – I’m not talking about seasons of faith here. Certainly we go through seasons where believing is easy and free and other seasons when the circumstances of life make believing feel like a chore – but growth is taking place in both of these seasons.)
So the question is: What step will you take today toward your own spiritual growth? Also, is there someone in your life who you could encourage on the journey and spur on toward greater growth? Perhaps it’s your child or a child at the church. If so, ask the Lord to give you the right words and actions to help them in their spiritual growth.
Whatever you do, don’t get complacent! God has more in store for us than we could possibly imagine – so why are we content to stay in our tiny shells of faith when greater ones await?