"Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."
James Bryant Conant
Growing up, I lived in a nice, little subdivision and the town's elementary school sat directly behind my backyard. The school's playground was like my very own and there were always kids to play with. It was a safe place to live and I was allowed to roam and play on my own at a very young age.
I liked to take my little, red Radio Flyer tricycle over to the school's black top. It was painted with geometric shapes, four square courts and a round wheel that resembled railroad tracks. I loved to ride my tricycle on the black top and pretend I was part of a train or trace the shapes with my trike. There were great, huge honeysuckle bushes next to the court and I would stop and pick honeysuckle flowers to taste. I could spend hours by myself, completely entertained.
One summer day, I was riding by myself on the blacktop. A group of teenage boys walked down the hill from the school towards me. I immediately felt a bit nervous about these boys. They had long, scraggly hair and used bad words. We little kids called them brats and when they were around we would run home and tell our parents the brats were out. But this time, instead of running home, I pretended to be invisible and just rode my tricycle. I hoped they would just pass through to the woods on the other side of the court but they didn't.
While I was pedaling, one of the boys found a box turtle who was making it's way from the woods across the black top. He called to his friends, "Hey, look! A turtle!" The boy picked the turtle up who was tucked safely in his shell and flung him across the black top the way one would skip a rock across water. The shell on his belly was smooth and flat and he skidded effortlessly across the pavement. I was horrified and plugged my ears so as not to hear the sound his shell made. The next boy picked him up and flung him back to his friend. They laughed and delighted in their new found game. I wanted to scream and rescue the turtle but was frozen to my little tricycle. They wouldn't stop. Their throws came faster and harder and pieces of shell started breaking off. I sat there so still so they would not notice me but I cried because I started to see the blood. After what seemed like an eternity, they stopped when there wasn't much left to throw and they became bored. They left his little, dead body in the middle of black top and walked off into the woods laughing about what they had done.
As soon as they were out of sight, I ran over to see if I could help him. He was so bloody and broken. He was not recognizable. He no longer resembled what he was created to be. I sat by myself in the hot, summer sun and cried for him and for the evil way the boys treated him. I cried for myself because I was too afraid to stop those boys and felt so helpless. I wanted to take him home to my parents to have him fixed but even at that young age, I knew it was too late. This is my first memory of the tragedy of death. This was the first time I encountered evil.
So what's this little turtle got to do with Jesus? Well, I usually only think of that story when I see a turtle trying to cross the road in the summer. But the other day as I was contemplating Lent and the coming of Easter, the Lord brought that turtle to my mind as a picture of Christ. Christ was the innocent, Lamb of God, paraded before leaders and crowds to be despised, rejected, slapped, spat upon and beaten. Isaiah prophesied, "his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness..." Like my unrecognizable turtle, Christ was beaten so much that He no longer resembled the perfect man God created. And like the little turtle, He did not fight back. He endured His torture mostly in silence. His mother and his friends watched helplessly as a beloved son and friend was savagely murdered. Christ was not helpless like my little turtle, He could have called upon legions of angels to rescue Him but He did not. He endured. He gave in. He surrendered.
We don't want think about a bloodied and beaten Jesus during Lent. We want to anticipate lilies and chocolates and glorious hymns sung in choir lofts. The hymns would be meaningless without the truth of his suffering and the flowers would not smell so sweet without the acknowledgement of His sacrifice. Take some time in the coming weeks to remember the hard things and the unlovely side of the gospel. Contemplate the fear and the agony of the on-lookers and the realization of the accusers that this truly was the son of God. The turtle memory has always been a hurtful one for me but today I am thankful that God married it to the memory of my gentle Savior.