There are many things that sit on the top shelf of my home computer desk; among those prized possessions is a small, light brown oblong shell that sports three small openings at its bottom…it is an unobtrusive, almost forgettable object; yet in the very innermost parts of my soul this unlovely husk brought new meaning to my spiritual life many years ago.
To give you the full meaning of this lesson in a short time, I must first flashback to around 1995; I was adrift in the storms of life, bitter and alone, and had recently went through a pretty nasty divorce. Basically left with the clothes on my back and in my closet and not much else, I went through a period of despair, anger, hurt, denial, betrayal, etc…I had so many emotions to vent. And, of course, I was also feeling sorry for myself, so I decided to take some time walking up and down Fernandina Beach in Florida to clear my head and find some answers.
I can remember that there was a nor’easter blowing into shore on that early morning day in March; the salt spray blew off the churning waves and stung my face as I wandered aimlessly up and down the sandy shores. The one thought that ran unceasingly throughout my mind was, “Why, Lord? I just don’t understand. I feel like You’ve left me all alone.”
And it was at that moment an object washed up at my feet from the angry sea. As I picked it up contemplatively, I saw that it was a small green coconut, clumped with shells and barnacles; it looked horrible, and smelled likewise. After a few reflective moments, I threw it back into the ocean and set out on yet another random trek down the beach.
About two or three minutes later, a huge wave whoosed over my bare feet; and lo and behold, here was that ugly, toxic-smelling tropical nut again. Again, I picked it up and laughed to the heavens. “OK, God, what’s with the coconut? You trying to tell me something?” I bitterly barked out, and turned and heaved the coconut back towards the opposite end from where I had walked.
And then, like that uninvited guest who keeps turning up at your door over and over again, I felt a thunk! at my feet about 30 seconds later…and there, nestled between my big toes, sat that diminutive, noisome fruit.
“OK, OK, God,” I whispered resignedly. “I don’t know why you want me to have this…but I’ll take it…even though I don’t want it.”
So I trudged back to the hotel room, laid newspapers out on the lone desk that was there, and perched myself in a seat across from the coconut. Quickly, the room filled with the pungent odor of decay and marine life. I stared at that beckoning object for a long time; it stared right back at me. And, deep in my spirit, I heard a small voice breathe these words: “Peel the skin back.”
Huh? Peel the skin back? What kind of nonsense was this, anyway? Yet, the voice persisted; and after another few minutes of wrestling with this gentle calling, I pulled out my pocketknife and went to work.
And, slowly but surely, that tough exterior skin of corruption and decay on the coconut came loose…and what was revealed underneath not only brought tears to my eyes; it slammed home a spiritual Truth from God that I had been missing out on because of my own selfishness and pitying.
For, you see, at the center of that mess was a gleaming white core; the “nut” of the coconut…untouched by the ravages of the boiling seas that it had been adrift in for so many years; an immature, yet viable seed that could go on to grow if given time and nourishment and nurturing…
And it was then that the Voice whispered to me again…and said, “It’s just like you, My child. it’s just like you.”
Yes, I had been going through some stormy seas; it seemed as if all hope was lost and that the huge waves of life’s trials and tribulations were going to overtake me and I would perish. But, on that day so long ago, I learned this one valuable and so-very-important lesson from our Lord–that no matter what we might go through in this life, and no matter how the noxious and smelly sinful skin of this life might try to drag us down…we are ALL like that pure and unadulterated inner “coconut” in God’s eyes; we can be nurtured in His Love and Grace and Mercy; we can overcome those day-to-day things that threaten to swamp us through His Word; we can grow in Him and sustain our faith through a daily walk and relationship with God…and the best thing of all is this–one day, when we take our last breath of life on this earth, our Lord will peel back this sinful flesh and give us pure, and holy, and PERFECT bodies in those heavenly realms forever.
I thank God each and every day for the lesson that He gave me; a Truth so full of Life and Mercy and Grace that it still takes my breath away when I think about it twelve years later; a Truth that could only be told…through a seafaring coconut.
Richard is the newly-appointed pastor at Bear Branch and Purdin United Methodist Churches. His column appears monthly in the Leader. You can leave feedback for him at sliceofhome.wordpress.com or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.