by Dr. Bill Austin
A friend, holding a turtle puppet, gave a talk to children and asked them, “How do you get a turtle to come out of his shell?” The children gave several suggestions such as, “Be nice to him,” and “Play with him.” Of course, my friend was talking about how we should relate to each other. What if the turtle is the kid who sits by himself at lunch? What if the turtle is someone who is so shy that she stands outside the group?
The young man asked to speak to me.
He had a speech impediment,
so it took him a long time to say
what he wanted to share.
This incident reminded me of a story about a mother and her son walking on the banks of a river. The little boy saw a turtle slowing crawling along the sand. He ran over to get a better look at the turtle. Unfortunately, when the boy got close, the turtle went inside its shell and closed down. The little boy was so disappointed. He wanted to see the head and legs, so he found a stick, and tried to pry the shell open. The more he pried, the tighter the shell became. Then the boy found a stone, and started hitting the shell. The more he did that, the more the shell tightened. The mother saw what was going on, went over and took the turtle. She said to the little boy, “Johnny, that is not how you get a turtle to come out of its shell.” She smoothed out a place in the sand and then gently laid the turtle down on the sand. “This is how you get a turtle to come out of its shell. You put it in a nice warm place and give it space.” As they stood there watching, pretty soon, the turtle’s head came out as it looked around to see if it was safe. Thinking it was safe, the turtle came out and wandered off.
I told this story at a speaking engagement. After my talk, a young couple came up to me, and the young man asked to speak to me. He had a speech impediment, so it took him a long time to say what he wanted to share. He said that with his speech problem, he had been the turtle all his life. People made fun of him, criticized him, and avoided him. It was so painful that he put a shell around himself and did not let anyone close to him. He continued: “But I have found a nice warm relationship where it is safe to be myself. It is a relationship where I do not need a wall or shell.”
To come out of our shell, we need a safe and supportive relationship with someone who believes in us and gives us room to grow and develop the potentials that lie within us.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700