When you see a turtle on a fence post…

(This is one I posted a couple of years ago, when I was going through what I can now see was a cyclical pattern of emotional ups and downs in ministry. This year, the Lord has seen fit to bring healing so I’m in a better place spiritually and emotionally, but I thank God for good souls who have been such an encouragement along the way, like my DS.)

Everybody goes through seasons of spiritual “stuckness,”  days or weeks or sometimes even months when you just can’t seem to get out of your spiritual bad mood. If you’ve had that experience or are there now, you’re not alone. This is a normal part of the spiritual journey. It is not a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it may well be a sign that God is about to launch you into a new season.

I’ve been spiritually stuck for a while, dreadfully stuck. Even though I know it is a normal part of the journey, when I’m in the middle of it I’m not usually able to think rationally about it. I whine. I complain. I rail against God.

I was in the middle of that valley last week when I met with my district superintendent for an evaluation. I appreciated being able to share honestly. I wanted him to tell me what I’m doing wrong, what I’ve done to get myself  here and how to get out of this. “I just feel like I’m stuck,” I complained. “Like I’m sitting on a fence.”

With that, my DS reached into his backpack, pulled out a stuffed turtle and dropped it on the table between us. One has to wonder what kind of person just happens to have a turtle in his backpack, but that’s another story for another day.

“You know what they say about a turtle on a fencepost, right?” he asked. “If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he didn’t get there by himself.”turtle-on-a-fence-post

Wait … what? Are you saying that God put me here?

My gut reaction wasn’t healthy. Mean children put turtles on fenceposts to watch them suffer. So is God a mean child who enjoys watching me suffer? If that is my view, then my understanding of the nature of God is severely impacted. If God is out to get me, then I’d better approach all of life from a self-protective place.

On the other hand, if God is good then my self-protective posture betrays what I know to be true. Am I preaching God’s goodness while I function as if he is against me?

If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he didn’t get there by himself.

If God is good and God has a hand in putting me in this place (even an uncomfortable place), then why? What if God has me here to prepare me for something deeper? What if this is not a stuck place but a spiritual incubator, a season of preparation much like what John the Baptist prophesied? “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight paths for his coming.” Maybe if I’m in a spot, God put me there not to be mean but because he loves me and sees in me what I don’t see in myself.

What if God sometimes puts us up on fenceposts to save us from ourselves, or to keep us from running out into the road (you know, I’ve never seen a turtle outrun a car)? What if God has us up there to keep us from running … period? What if he has us up there to wear us out, so that when we get our feet on the ground again, we’ll be willing to rest trustingly just where we’ve been placed?

What if trusting a good and merciful God means rooting ourselves in that goodness rather than our circumstances, believing that even fence-post seasons can be fruitful?

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