The Shell Collector


When it comes to the friendships in your life, are you hiding important parts of yourself in order to stay "safe"?

I collect shells. While most people keep their shell collections in glass jars, I carry mine with me every day.

My shells go by different names. They're the various shields I use to hide behind: "Humor," "Smiling," "Independence." Those seem to be the ones I use most, but lately I've grown sick of them.

Why? They get in the way of truly knowing people and being known. Don't get me wrong; humor, smiling, and independence are all parts of who I am. But too often I fall back on them because they're the safe parts. They're parts that don't require me telling the truth about the other stuff, like pain, discouragement, frustration, fear, and shame. My shells make me safe.

But they don't make me free.

Letting People See You

Muriel Barbery wrote, "We have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves ... because other people have become our permanent mirrors.... As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone."

It's hard to know people when you don't let them see you ... really see you. And it's hard to see others when you're busy trying to keep all hands and feet inside your shell at all times. Insecurity keeps us not only from being known but from loving other people completely by giving them ourselves.

Seeing Others As They Are

In another one of my favorite quotes, the poet Yeats wrote of a girl who had many casual acquaintances: "But one man saw the pilgrim soul in you." Everyone saw her shells; her happiness and graciousness. Only one ended up seeing her pilgrim soul.

That phrase—"pilgrim soul"—captures me. I know I have one of those. We all do. None of us are merely faces and names; we're souls with hope, longings, and destinations. That's what having a pilgrim (wandering, sojourning) soul means. But how often do I recognize that pilgrim soul in others?

With my eyes stuck on myself, I see others in terms of my world, my fears, my thoughts, and my worries. In so doing, I cripple my ability to really see them.

It's not that I don't care about people, but I don't see the full weight of others' struggles and joys because I'm too preoccupied with trying to keep my own world from falling apart. It's a less obvious form of selfishness than outright not caring; it's simply not noticing, because I'm just plain overwhelmed with my own stuff.

Romans 12:10 says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." How do I love others, showing honor to them and their concerns?

This also leads me to wonder what my friendships are based on. Are they based on love or my own insecurity?

My friends and I are "friends" because we do life together. We eat together. We talk together. We suffer together. But do we grow together?

Is our relationship such that we mature together? I don't just mean "together" in the sense of proximity, but in the sense of "have I intertwined my life and concerns with those of others so that when we grow, it's a shared experience?" Have I helped people grow or just used their company to wax away the hours? Have I rooted myself in the body of Christ by giving other people my interest? Do I know people, truly? Do I allow myself to be known?

I don't want anyone to read this and assume that I don't love people. I honestly do. But love is more than an emotion of caring, and deep love for people is more than just having time shared together. It's giving oneself. And that starts with opening up, the willingness to live deeply.

Have you noticed insecurities getting in the way of your friendships? Do you struggle to be honest and not put on a mask around people? What masks do you hold to the most?

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