Happy Snails to You

This Vera Bradley pattern is called "Happy Snails."  What a misnomer.
This Vera Bradley pattern is called “Happy Snails.”
What a misnomer.

There’s nothing quite like an evening stroll.

That’s what my parents and I thought when we decided to take a walk together early last week. And we were right: there really was nothing quite like this particular evening stroll.

It started out normal enough. We walked out of our subdivision, waving to our neighbors at the pool. Turning right, we headed down the street toward the elementary school. We planned to go to the nature preserve behind the school because dusk is usually the perfect time to visit. Not only is the temperature cooler, but that’s when deer and other nifty wildlife come out to play.

… including snails.

You see, the weather had been especially rainy lately. In Kansas, that normally means that a few more worms will appear on the sidewalks and you should stay off the grass because it’s probably muddy. Or at least, that’s what it means in the civilized confines of a neighborhood. But out in the wilderness of the local nature preserve? Well, apparently rain means snails. Lots and lots and LOTS of snails.

When we noticed the first snail, we thought it was cute. I said something along the lines of, “Oh look, Papa! That little snail is trying to cross the path.” And then my dad, being the chivalrous, big-hearted, and small-critter-loving guy that he is, gently lifted the movement-challenged snail from the asphalt and placed it in the opposite grass. And that was endearing—for the first 8 times. And then it turned just plain freaky.

Not thinking anything of our recent snail encounters, we continued to follow the trail as it entered into the woods. Apparently the snails really like moisture (sorry for using that word), and in the shade the path was still sufficiently moist (sorry again) to attract them…. By the hundreds. That’s right. Little did we know that when we stepped into the shade we were also entering our own personal, snail-saturated version of the Twilight Zone (cue theme music).

Thus, what began as an altruistic attempt to help the snail cross the road (presumably, to get to the other side #badjoke) suddenly metamorphosized into a desperate attempt to avoid squishing them at all costs. And their camouflage only made that more difficult. Even though we were making every effort to avoid stepping on them, their well-disguised shells made them look just like acorn tops. Try as we did, we still ended up crushing a whole lot of them. I still haven’t brought those tennis shoes back inside. *involuntary shiver* It. Was. Awful.

In the days following that scarring, snail-filled experience, I found myself thinking about it… way more than I wanted to. There had to be a lesson in this—besides the obvious “don’t walk through the nature preserve after it rains”—but what could it be?

And then when I was running (on a different, less snaily trail) it hit me. Are you ready?

I’m not perfect.

Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Gee, Steffi, of course you’re not perfect. Nobody is.” But while I know that this is true, I still try my very best to prove that it’s not. And when you expect perfection from yourself, you end up sorely—and constantly—disappointed. All you perfectionists out there can vouch for me (you Type B people, keep enjoying your carefree existence); it’s not very fun and it’s exhausting. And yet most of the time that’s exactly how I operate. I work my figurative tail off every day, convinced that if I can just try a little harder, focus a little better, and push myself a little bit more, I’ll finally, just maybe, be satisfied.

But as you’ve probably guessed, it doesn’t turn out that way. And when I fail yet again to be perfect—or at least to reach my own standard of perfection—I feel defeated. And even more discouraged than before I started.

So what in the world does this have to do with snails? A whole lot actually. You see, when I was following my parents down the trail, I wanted to do it perfectly. I made every effort to be careful, to tread lightly, and to avoid that sickening and telltale crunch. But try as I might (and I really did try, as my tip-toe-sore calves reminded me for days afterward), I couldn’t do it. The snails were hard to see, there were so many of them, I wasn’t able to balance well enough—the list went on and on. And even my parents couldn’t help me, despite the fact that they had just walked through the same place. They couldn’t see my exact situation. In other words, I was on my own. When I finally escaped into the snail-free sunlight, I was exhausted, moderately traumatized, and with no desire to look at the bottom of my shoe.

No, I’m not perfect and no amount of good intentions, willpower or effort is going to change that. And even with older and wiser people offering me advice, I’m still going to mess up. Simply put, I don’t have what it takes.

But Jesus does. And better yet, He not only has gone ahead of me, but He is right there with me every step of the metaphorically snail-filled way.

And that, my friends, is the heart of the Gospel. We are each broken, lost, imperfect sinners who have no chance of making it on our own. We are not and never will be perfect, at least not here on earth. But through Jesus’ perfect life and His sacrifice for us on the cross, His righteousness and holiness can become ours. We can’t earn it—even our best attempts will still be covered in snail goo—we can only accept it as the gift it is. And that’s the greatest news ever.

Whew, that’s a lot of deep thoughts for today. Anyone up for an evening walk? … Just kidding. 😉

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