Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Lessons About Life From A Seashell

Published September 15, 2005

I stopped dead in my tracks. I was walking along the shore at Neptune Beach, when I spotted a truly gorgeous shell.

When I picked it up, I saw that the surf had worn away its ridges. Evidently the shell had been pushed and pulled by the persistent tides, and buffed by the sand, and had become translucent.

It had definitely survived the school of hard knocks.

On that same beach trip, my nephew and his wife were eager to show off their home, but they first issued a warning.

It seems the kitchen wasn’t up and running yet, and much of the house was still under construction.

They have spent the last four years renovating the house and are remodeling each room until it is just the way they want it.

The house showed tremendous creativity: lovely hardwood floors, newly arched doorways and a brick fence, all of which they’d done themselves.

Still, I am a bit concerned. You see, any time I am in the presence of people who expect their house to be a showcase, I suspect they are in for some giant disappointments.

People who try to arrange their lives as if the world were a perfect place are setting themselves up for a crash. Every one of us will, like the shell, get our share of bruises, nicks and marks.

We will have our hearts broken, more than once, and lose those who are dear to us. We will have trees fall on our houses and rain flood our basements.

But if we spend all our time trying to avoid life’s pitfalls, we aren’t really living at all.

I remember when my husband and I got our first new car. For a few weeks, I actually parked it far away from other cars, for fear the doors would get dented.

I washed it weekly and made sure the carpets were meticulously clean. But, then, at some point, I realized that, no matter what I did, the car was going to get older.

It was going to get scratched, the seats would get frayed, and the paint would fade. What really was the point of caring about all these externals anyway?

Many people treat their bodies like a car. They are horrified when they notice bags showing up under their eyes, the sprouting of gray hairs and the downward shifting of various body parts.

But what is the point, really, of objecting to the inevitable? Just as my kitchen counters are faded and worn, so am I. There is no reason to run to the plastic surgeon in the hopes of repairing the damages.

There are two ways to live. One, you are constantly trying to achieve perfection in the external world, whether that means lamenting every scratch on your floors, every nick on your car and every wrinkle on your brow.

Or, two: You set your sights on trying to achieve some degree of perfection spiritually.

We all have limited time on planet Earth. Shall we spend it repairing things that won’t last anyway? Or exerting efforts on the one thing we possess that outlasts time? Which, of course, is the soul.

Now I am not suggesting that we ignore our homes, our cars and our bodies. After all, the wonder of the Incarnation is that God Himself took on human flesh to make the body holy.

And the New Testament shows Jesus drinking and eating with friends, embracing children and heading out to go fishing.

Still, we live in a world where much more attention is given to the body than the spirit.

Magazines bulge with stories about dieting, exercise and plastic surgery. Pick up the daily newspaper and you’ll read plenty of stories about immunizations, a new round of diseases, and the latest financial and sports results.

Spiritual topics are few and far between.

Thus, given a choice between time on the treadmill or time spent in prayer, let’s go for the spiritual workout.

Given a choice between spending money on plastic surgery or on feeding the hungry, let’s choose the investment with long-lasting results.

The compassionate work that Christ did in the mere 33 years He walked upon earth still resonates over 2,000 years later. And yet, as far as we know, He had few possessions and perhaps no home at all.

He said we should spend our time storing up treasure in heaven, not on earth. That message could indicate that we should care more about the scrapes on our souls, which are our real treasures, than the flaws in our homes or the scars on our bodies.

The world is an imperfect place. Cars rust, linoleum fades and paint peels. Still, we should keep our sights set on what is immortal.

And perhaps, despite the wear and tear of time, we will one day be as lovely in God’s eyes as that translucent shell on the beach.

Lorraine Murray’s latest book, “How Shall We Celebrate? Embracing Jesus in Every Season” (Resurrection Press), has 30 short reflections, plus original illustrations by her husband, Jef. You may e-mail her at