Several weeks ago, my daughter and I walked along the beach collecting cockle shells. The sand was covered with a multitude of shells that had been tossed about the waves, and then deposited along the shoreline. When a shell caught our attention, we picked it up, examined it carefully, compared it to others we had already gathered, and then decided whether to keep the shell or place it back among the many others scattered along the seashore.
As we were going through this process over and over, I started to think about the variety in the color, size, and condition of the cockle shells. There were big shells, small shells, dull shells, colorful shells, whole shells, and broken shells. Some of the shells looked plain on one side but were beautiful on the other side. Some of the broken shells had sharp jagged edges, while the broken edges of others were smooth to the touch.
As we continued to walk, I began to contemplate how we as people are a lot like the shells that my daughter and I were collecting. I believe that God guided my thoughts that day, and I’d like to share with you some of what came to me then, and as I thought about it more afterward.
A cockle shell’s color can be determined by it’s heredity and/or the food eaten by the mollusk that it once housed. It’s size increases as it ages. The condition of the shells on the beach that day reflected the journeys they had taken from the time they were formed until the time we found them. The shells with sharp edges were probably newly broken—possibly after they were deposited on the beach. The shells, whose previously sharp edges were smooth now, had probably been broken long ago and had been gradually smoothed out by their movement through the sand and water that surrounded them.
Like the cockle shells, we are effected by our heredity and our environment. We probably share similar physical traits with those we are related to. Our spiritual and emotional characteristics have, at least partially, been determined by the way we were raised, what we have been exposed to, and what we have experienced on our journey thus far. We may be plain and unattractive by the world’s standards, and yet, if people looked closer they would find great beauty on the inside. We may appear whole and beautiful on the outside, while we hide anger and pain deep inside. Some of us may have broken edges that are still sharp from the trials we have faced, while others who have faced great trials, have had their broken edges made smooth.
I can’t help but reflect on how important our relationship with God is in determining how well we come through life’s difficult circumstances. We can let life break us and leave us with sharp jagged edges, or we can allow God to shape us and smooth out the broken parts. He can bring us through all kinds of trials, if we let Him, and He can use our tough circumstances to make us into the beautiful people He created us to be.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Let’s be patient with those whose scars are showing and whose edges are sharp. Let’s not toss them back on the sand and walk away—we don’t know what their journey has been. Instead, maybe we can point them to the one who can heal their scars and surround them with a love that can smooth out any sharp edges.