Question: What can live for up to 100 years, is known to be harmless to humans and moves no faster than 1 mph but can still scare the living daylights out of a grown woman who comes face-to-face with one? Answer: A sea turtle. Years ago, I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay in Oahu while on an anniversary trip with my husband when I turned my head away from some lovely circus-colored coral and straight into the snout of a gigundous Loggerhead turtle. Even though I do believe he was just as surprised as I was to make up-close underwater eye contact, it was me (the supposedly grown woman) who let out a garbled, high-pitched scream through my snorkel and made a hasty, comically uncoordinated retreat.
Since then I’ve had no close encounters with sea turtles, but this summer I saw evidence of them. Some dear friends and I were taking a morning walk on a beach in Florida when we stumbled upon what we thought were deep tire tracks in the sand leading to and from the water (Attention coastline residents: please try not to snicker over our ignorance—my friends and I all live in the flatlands of the Midwest!). Upon closer inspection (and a little Google confirmation) we realized we had discovered a sea turtle nest, even before the official turtle patrol had found and marked it with yellow caution tape. We were delighted to learn about the endangered sea turtle’s ancient ritual of crawling out of the ocean in the dark of night and finding a safe place to dig and deposit her eggs before returning to the sea. Further down the beach, however, we found a different set of tracks. These tracks made it only halfway to the high tide line and then made a very obvious U-turn in the sand and headed back to the water. There was no nest, no eggs, no fresh, fluffy pile of sand for the turtle patrol to mark.
“Something spooked her,” explained the patrol volunteer after we waved down his white pickup truck to inquire about this unusual set of tracks. “It’s called a false crawl,” he told us. “She got scared and turned back.”
A false crawl. That term floated back into my brain the next morning as I was prayer journaling.
Hmmm. I realized that the skittish Mamma sea turtle and I have a lot in common.
Yep, there are many instances in my life when I too have made a false crawl. I’ve left a mission unaccomplished, a task unfinished, a risk untaken because I got spooked. I made some initial progress toward a goal, but then fear took over and I made a U-turn. And just like that hesitant mother sea turtle, I withdrew to the familiarity of my home base.
I suppose if we are being honest, we’ve all made a false crawl or two in our lives. Fear is a real obstacle that can keep us from moving ahead or doing the right thing or trying something new. Something (or someone) scares us and then we retreat. I think back on those times in my life when I turned around and I wonder: What if I had asked for encouragement from the Holy Spirit at that moment of decision, that critical pause right before I changed direction? What if I had said a small prayer and asked for the grace and power to overcome my fear and any other hurdles at that particular instant? How would things be different?
I sometimes forget this: When we face uphill battles and fear enters in, the Holy Spirit is our encourager. He is our Advocate, the Paraclete that Jesus promised to send to us after he returned to his Father. In fact, Parakletos is closely related to the Greek word for encouragement! The third person of the Holy Trinity can help us set our troublesome fear aside and move forward in our journey. At those moments of weakness, He can kindle a fire of courage and strength in our hearts to help us persevere. He offers hope, peace, comfort. And when we are being persecuted, He provides holy fortitude to help us prevail.
The Holy Spirit is the antidote to life’s false crawls.
And we don’t have to go far to access all of the gifts the Holy Spirit has to give. You and I were instilled with every one of these gifts when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. They’re all there, hunkered down in the corners of our hearts, waiting to be released and maximized. All we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to flip the switch, so to speak.
So I decided to try something new—something that will help me confront my challenges with a fresh faith and a renewed determination. The next time I’m facing a dig-in-or-retreat situation, I am going to stop and ask for encouragement from the Divine Encourager. I am going to let the Advocate take over. I am going to close my eyes and fervently pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
I’m guessing there will be no U-turn, no retreat, and no false crawl.
And (hopefully) no garbled, high-pitched screams.