We’d found the perfect spot. Out back, behind the chicken coop, a field of Golden Rod and blues skies in front of us with drifts of honeysuckle sweetness floating in from behind. The hot summer day felt several degrees cooler sitting under those trees as we settled in to sip iced tea and read.
I thought I’d head out there every day, if only for a half hour of solace and solitude. We were four months into this pandemic business with no end in sight and as much as I love my family, I need my alone time.
Except I’d discovered I wasn’t alone.
I went around a different way to our newly discovered thoughtful spot only to discover this guy (or girl) had left its skin behind.
I turned right back around and headed indoors knowing there was no way I could concentrate on trying to read with no knowledge of its whereabouts. And forget closing my eyes for any type of meditation or soaking up of the sun!
A couple weeks later, my man was shoring up the chicken coop, giving it a chic chick makeover, when he came bounding out as fast as he could scurry. Not much gives me the heebie-jeebies but I found out who wore that skin….
A couple of months later, I read this thought from Margaret Guenther’s book Holy Listening: One of the treasures in my study is the intact skin of a Virginia black snake, shed as part of the process of growth. To grow, indeed, to survive, that snake had to leave behind a part of itself. I have no idea whether the shedding was painful or a relief, but my imagination tells me that it was some of each.
While I have no desire whatsoever to put that snakeskin in my study, we can learn a lot from this authors observance. And yes, I looked up how and why a snake sheds its skin.
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1. A snake sheds its skin by rubbing up against a rock, tree or other hard surface. It cannot get rid of the old without some friction to help it along.
We, too, must shed skins and identities by persevering through the painful parts and pieces of life. Paul tells us it’s this suffering that produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3-5a NIV)
James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:1-4 NIV)
I really wish it didn’t take trials of many kinds to help us grow but when I look back on my growth spurts, spiritually and personally speaking, it was because of walking through some hard things.
No friction. No character development.
No character development. No learning perseverance.
No perseverance. No faith maturation.
No maturing faith. No hope.
No hope. Well…you feel hopeless.
There is purpose behind the pain of growing.
2. A snake shedding its skin allows for new and further growth.
We are not the same people on the other side of a hard season. We are wiser, more aware, more compassionate towards others who are going through something similar and even towards those who aren’t because they simply cannot know what they’ve not experienced.
Those who never go through some tough stuff, stay stuck in their skin-tight selves and never get to experience the joy, heartache, laughter and tears of helping someone who’s transitioning through a hard space. It gives us the maturity and understanding to be able to help others. It gives us a purpose for having suffered ourselves.
All praise to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT)
3. A snake shedding its skin allows for the removal of parasites.
Ewww…am I right? While we may not have actual parasites, (anyone’s head itching yet?) we do have things we need to remove or let go of because we have simply outgrown them. With the help of some friends, here is a list of just a few possible parasites:
Jobs Having to be perfect
My jeans since COVID 😉 Saying you’re okay and you’re not
Guilt trips Expectations of others
Previous hurts Old routines
Ideals of other people’s roles in our lives
What are some of yours?
4. The snake leaves behind a piece of its old self in order to grow/survive.
This one is especially bittersweet since there is often nothing wrong with the old self or shed skin; it’s simply not useful to us anymore. I jest about my jeans as something I’ve outgrown (if you’ve never laid down on your bed to zip your jeans, I’m afraid we cannot be friends), but how many of us have clothes in our closets that we keep for someday when…? Those clothes we’ve outgrown? They simply do not fit anymore.
Spiritually speaking, we hold on to our “parasites” because they are comfortable, familiar and safe. Unfortunately, that very same holding on to stunts our growth and stifles the Spirit.
Matthew says it this way: Who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and running the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17NLT)
5. Is the shedding of a snake’s skin painful or a relief?
I love that Margaret asks this question, to which she answers probably a bit of both. Growth feels like you’re being squeezed out of your own skin. There is pain in the process of the pressing, but the purpose of the process is a promise of perfected faith and perseverance.
It’s both painful (the process) and a relief (the promise).
Like the bittersweetness of letting go of an old sweater with its memories and familiarity is to accept growth and change in ourselves as a kind of departure, a leaving behind of the safe and known. It’s both painful to let go and a relief to move forward. Even more painful is trying to shrink yourself down to fit what you once were. I don’t want to be who I was ten, five or one year ago. I want to be a new and improved person, having shed the skin of that which keeps me from being completely me.
If God can use the skin of a snake to teach me such things, what can he do with you and your story? God will use that squeezing, those scars, that pressing down, those questions and desperate prayers for a purpose you can only imagine in your wildest dreams!
PS I will not be putting a snakes skin in my office…even so.
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