Many turtles hibernate in winter, underwater and burrowed in mud? I just learned that today. Get out! We had an adorable tiny turtle or two when I was about five years old. And I took a number of biology and animal sciences classes in college, but I do not recall a lecture on turtles and their wintertime habits. Boy, was I missing something! Let me fill you in, because a turtle’s life amazingly relates to you and me.
Painted turtles and snapping turtles are two types of reptiles that rely on their environment for their body temperature (exothermic—if you remember that term from science class). During winter, in bodies of water up to about seven feet deep, these turtles nestle down in the bottom mud and significantly slow their metabolism. Even having lungs, they switch over to oxygen uptake from the chilly water that moves across their body surfaces rich with blood vessels.
In a sense, hibernating turtles stop breathing, except they allow another body part to help with oxygen support. Their bums. Winterized turtles become butt breathers, but that’s a science lesson for another time, (note to young boys reading this: after you stop laughing until you feel like you may wet your pants, go look up this article online about turtle tushes.)
Now back to my story here that relates to you and me. Painted turtles in particular are masters at submerging in cold water temperatures for more than 100 days. Buried in muck, these turtles pull calcium from their bones and shells and begin to lose their overall shape. And they wait. And wait. For months.
But when spring arrives, the lethargic turtles head for the water’s surface and sunshine. The turtles breathe with their lungs again, and regular nourishment and sunshine replenishes their slimmed-down shape.
How Are We Like These Turtles?
When we wait for our circumstances to change, or a new season to arrive, or our own winter burrowing in to end, we are like hibernating turtles. We may feel stuck in a mud hole and moving at a turtle’s pace . . . or seeing no movement toward the positive at all. This slowed lifestyle of waiting is essentially what I call bending. We, like hibernating turtles, adjust to our environment and we adapt, we flex, and we reshape our expectations and reinvent ourselves in a way. We learn to bend.
While we may need to hunker down in the mud for awhile, when the time is right, we will emerge from the mire or as the psalmist describes a “slimy pit” (Psalm 40:2) to see more sunny days ahead.
In my book, Two Days Longer, about how to discover more of who God really is through our everyday waiting, I write about Jawad in Iraq. Jawad is a Shiite Muslim who fears he will be murdered by the Saddam Hussein’s secret police. So Jawad hides inside a three-foot-wide wall chamber for twenty-two years. Jawad chooses solitary confinement in his own home. In my summary of Jawad’s emerging from his homemade crypt, I explain, “Horrific fear and desperation bulldozed Jawad. The choice was death or waiting. Jawad chose to wait. Most of us will never face such an extreme period of waiting alone. Yet when we’re waiting on the God of the universe, even a few seconds can seem like an eternity.”
What We Have in Common
Jawad and painted turtles have something in common with you and me. We all encounter times of wintertime waiting in which we long to see sunshine again. At times we all must wait and bend and bend and wait until it’s time to push out of the muck and the confining walls of our lives and breathe fresh air again.
You may be in your own wintertime wait right now, but sit tight, spring will come. You WILL breathe easy again.
“I waited and waited and waited some more, patiently, knowing God would come through for me. Then, at last, he bent down and listened
to my cry. He stooped down to lift me out of danger from the desolate pit I was in, out of the muddy mess I had fallen into. Now he’s
lifted me up into a firm, secure place and steadied me while I walk along his ascending path. A new song for a new day rises up in me
every time I think about how he breaks through for me!” —Psalm 40:1-3, The Passion Translation