I was fortunate to take some time away for a personal retreat. The place where I stayed is a beautiful retreat centre that is situated on a large scenic lake in Ontario. They have several amenities available for guests, and so one morning I took one of their kayaks out for a quiet loop around that part of the lake. I had already decided my boating path when an ache crept into my right shoulder. I was determined to keep my commitment even when the other shoulder started to whine as well.

I thought of those Olympic kayakers that push through the starting gates with incredible strength, only to ease into an impressive rhythm that somehow increases in speed. They move through the water with such agility and grace, not at all like I was doing that day. At a slight narrowing, I left the shoreline and headed across the wide part of the lake to make my way back along the far shore. The soreness had subsided somewhat, but I became tired. I questioned the wisdom of my lofty plan but I kept paddling.

Finally I made it across the lake and started to enjoy the trip along the other shoreline. Before I made my way back across the lake, I noticed a couple of oddly shaped rocks sticking out of the water in the distance. I then turned my gaze back to the shoreline again. As I paddled towards the rocks, I made out the familiar silhouette of two turtles that were sunning themselves. One moved slightly and as I got closer they both awkwardly slipped into the water as if sensing my curiosity. They were not up for putting on a show for me.

It dawned on me that once those turtles hit the water, there was no way I would be able to keep up with them, even if I could see them. As slow and awkward as they are on land, they are so much more agile under the water. Turtles are notorious for moving painfully slow. This image is burned in our imaginations from the time we hear our first nursery stories as children. But these stories are always set on dry land, the one place turtles are the least agile. Yet, this is not where they were designed to be their best.

I wonder if we attach negative labels to ourselves, based on aspects of our lives where we seem to struggle the most? All of us have felt painfully awkward at times, while trying to accomplish some task, or work through a problem that just did not come easily. Perhaps it was during the school years, or some aspect of our work responsibilities, or maybe even certain social settings that we always seem to stumble through. And as a result, we label ourselves as slow, or awkward, or worse. We become guilty of comparing ourselves with others who paddle through the same waters with ease and grace. Eventually, our struggle can become the definition of who we are. This is completely unfair, because it is not the whole story. An opinion formed from seeing a turtle move only on land would be incomplete, for it was designed to move under the water. And so we need to view ourselves from a full and true perspective.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” Psalm 139:13-14

David, the guy who wrote these words must have got a glimpse of his life from God’s point of view. The whole of Psalm 139 is a description of his life from every possible angle. Amazingly, the awkward parts do not overshadow the agile parts. God seems to be pleased with the whole picture, after all He painted it. David confirms this later on in his psalm with these amazing words,

“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!”

Despite our temptation to think so, these are not the words of an arrogant mind. Rather, they are words from a full heart that has seen his life through God’s eyes, convinced that he is completely and utterly loved by God, warts and all. As a result, David discovered where he was best designed to swim. And later on in his life, whenever he found himself stuck in those awkward moments, it did not define him, for he already saw the big picture.