Now and then, you may see bigger crabs, in deeper, safer pools. With ponderous majesty, they wave huge claws as a warning to stay away. On the beach, shells of crabs lie washed up by the waves. Some are from crabs that died. Others are simply discarded, a dwelling too small for its growing occupant. That’s how crabs grow bigger - when their shells get too tight, they split open and grow a new one.
I’ve never talked with a crab. But I imagine the process of splitting open a shell must be painful. I’m sure that until they grow a new shell they feel terribly defenceless and vulnerable. Because that’s how we humans feel when we crack open our shells. Out shells aren’t visible like crabs’ but they are there, just the same - shells formed by years of habit, shells that protect us from other people, shells that are the roles we play as parents, or children, or bosses or employees.
Every now and then, we crack our shells open and emerge into a new world, quivering and defenceless. Teenagers do it as they become adults. Adults do it as they learn to stop running their children’s’ lives. Or when they get laid off at work. Or when a wife or husband dies and they have to start over again, alone. When an investment fails, when a dream disappears… In all these traumas in life, a shell is being broken. A new vulnerable life is started.
Like a crab, the longer that shell has been growing around us, the harder it is to break open, to start again, the more painful the breaking becomes. Some of our shells we have worn for generations.
No-one looks for painful experiences, in life or in faith. To avoid pain we may prefer to stay locked into our shells that no longer fit very well, rather than risk the vulnerability of cracking them open. But when a crab’s shell becomes too thick, too protective, too tough to crack open and start again, then the crab can’t grow any more. That’s when he dies.