“Behold the turtle: he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.”
James Bryant Conant
The other day, as I was reading, I came across this quote that stopped me in my tracks. Immediately, my sermonic antennae went up and my theological telescope took focus. James Conant (1893-1978), former president of Harvard University, brings us this metaphor that may help us make the next move and take the next step in our lives. Have you ever considered the turtle? It is a reptile most popularly known for its slow movement and its impregnable natural defense mechanism. I can remember growing up marveling at a turtle’s ability to retreat into its shell and become unassailable even to the likes of animals ten times its size. However, Conant’s simple observation reminds us that one of the turtle’s greatest capacities can become its primary constraint. It’s most pronounced strength can also be its most prominent weakness. If the turtle simply wants to protect itself, it will be fine living life in its shell. Yet, at some point, the turtle has to move, thrive, and make progress. Interestingly enough, in order to eat, move, and swim, a turtle has to give up its safety and take a risk. A turtle cannot live, simply protecting itself. If it is to do anything of significance it must stick its neck out.
Such is the case with our lives. Too often, we can find ourselves living our lives simply attempting to keep ourselves from hurt, harm, and danger. We make decisions seeking to avoid rejection, elude failure, and escape defeat. We can successfully protect ourselves from these things by staying in our shell. If being protected is our chief aim, then going into a shell works. However, at some point we realize that life cannot be lived and nothing meaningful can happen without progress. To exist, we sometimes have to protect ourselves, but to live, we have to make progress; and to make progress we have to risk sticking our neck out. Often, the amount of progress we want to make is connected to the amount of risk we are willing to take.
Jesus tells a story about this called the parable of the talents. In this story, a man gives three people large but different sums of money. Two of them double their money and one goes and hides the money given out of fear. After some time the man comes back and asks the people to give an account of their handling of the money. Upon hearing that the first two have doubled their money, he rewards them. However, when he hears that one essentially went into a shell and hid the money out of fear, he takes the money back. Amongst other things, Jesus’ parable, just like James Conant’s reminder both speak to our willingness to take risks. More importantly, they both speak to the profound importance of progress. God has not called us to live our lives prioritizing protection over progress. In our relationships, careers, finances, and even in our spirituality, too many times we make decisions with protection in mind. However, today is a good day to choose progress. Life is waiting to be lived, goals are waiting to be achieved, and dreams are waiting to be fulfilled, and progress is waiting to be gained. Still, the next step, the next level, the next gain, or the next accomplishment will not happen, until you come out of your shell and stick your neck out.
Humbly in Christ’s Love,
Pastor B.A. Jackson