Jackie Kennedy said, “Pearls are always appropriate.” But perhaps they aren’t if you’re the oyster.
Pearls are the only gemstone created by a living creature. Diamonds are formed out of dead things turned into coal and pressurized. But a pearl is created inside the shell of an oyster or a clam. The most beautiful and expensive pearls are the natural ones, created when a parasite or a piece of dust invades the protective shell of the oyster and begins to irritate it. The oyster excretes a chemical called “nacre” that coats the parasite with a substance that helps to ease the irritation. Over time, the coatings of nacre cause the parasite turned pearl to grow. More growth causes more irritation — and so the cycle continues day after day, year after year as the pearl grows larger.
I think of irritation as I sit and try to concentrate on the work that needs to be done, the emails that I need to answer, the blog post deadline that is looming. My children have been sent upstairs to bed, and they keep coming down with questions. “Mom, can you print out the lyrics to Deck the Halls?” “Can I have a pickle?” “Can I have two pickles?”
I feel like I am familiar with irritation.
Even when surrounded by blessings, I can’t help but feel like things are tough. In November I had Covid-19. I thought that was bad enough. Not long after I recovered, I spiked a fever and worried that I was reinfected. I ran to the doctor to be tested. Instead of Covid, I tested positive for the flu. I wondered when God would realize that He’d sent me more than enough trials and irritations for the time being. I began to imagine that Job and I would belong to the same club in heaven of long-suffering, noble believers.
Then God nudged me in that special way only He can do
by gently abrading me with even more challenging situations. Endless days of virtual schooling, disagreements with my closest family members, court battles, financial pressures. I feel the friction rubbing at me even now.
In a rare moment of silence in my prayer room, God sent me the vision of a beautiful pearl.
Initially, I assume Jesus is the pearl, a beautiful gift, placed inside an empty shell.
But a pearl isn’t just a fancy thing placed inside an empty shell for me to find and take pleasure in. The whole story of the pearl helps me understand the trials I experience and the irritations that can bring the growth I desire.
The pearl is the result of years of friction. Something from the outside breaks through the oyster’s thick shell and settles deep in the flesh and begins its work. Layer upon layer of nacre, like prayer and supplication, soothing the rawest wounds. Until many years later, there is nothing left inside the shell but the pearl.
“But the pearls were accidents, and the finding of one was luck, a little pat on the back by God or the gods both.” John Steinbeck
Maybe I am nothing but a closed-up oyster.
I have little to offer the world but my dull, grey flesh. When I invite Jesus into my heart, the precious work begins. Over time, the disharmony between my flesh and His holy presence causes a beautiful irritation.
The most valuable pearl in the world was found inside a clam by a Filipino fisherman. It measured 26 inches in length and weighed more than 75 pounds. By the time the pearl had finished growing, there was nothing left of the clam inside the shell. The fisherman took the pearl home and hid it under his bed as a good luck charm. And when his house burned down, the pearl survived. It is now valued at 100 million dollars.
An average-sized pearl takes three years to form.
I wonder how many years that 26-inch-long clam dealt with the irritation of the parasite inside of it. And I wonder about the short length of time that I’ve been called to endure the trials that I’ve been whining to God about for too long.
I come closer to Him as the irritation reminds me I have much to learn before I can produce anything of beauty equal to a pearl. I pray that one day, like the clam that the Filipino fisherman found, there will be nothing left inside of me but Him.