A Shark in the Lobby

Something was radically different. My eyes were not sure if what I saw actually was what I saw. There was something terribly out of place. What does a person do with a shark swimming in the lobby?

Upon returning from college spring break, I walked into the lobby of the dorm heading to the final resting place of my room. However, I encountered the unexpected in that familiar space that had suddenly become quite unfamiliar (kind of like a bush on fire that doesn’t burn). For there, magically overnight, had appeared a bank of very large fish tanks with assorted kinds of fish. It was the bottom large tank that caught my eye. Menacingly swimming around that tank was something I had encountered in the Florida ocean—a nurse shark. I don’t do sharks. Anywhere. Anytime.

And now, in the lobby of my habitation, my nemesis dominated the imagination. What would happen if that tank broke? How many bodies would fill that lobby from this predator’s meal? What would happen if it just happened to leap out after a graduating senior thinking the whole time it was a freshman? What do you feed a nurse shark on a campus that is vegetarian? Yes, all these crazy imaginative questions leapt from my frightened mind. And then…as if like a lightning bolt from the heavens, came one last compelling question:

What do you do with a nurse shark when it gets too big for that tank? And who gets it out? Can I watch? And so, with that energy, I ran to the dean-on-duty’s office to seek my answer. I found relief…and more. When I posed the cosmic question about size, his response struck me in ways less obvious than the obvious. And here was his response: “The shark will grow only as large as the tank.” And I knew God had spoke.

People grow as large as the environments they inhabit. Here is the good news—our Creator placed us in a universe. Last I checked, that is a tad bigger than a fish tank in a dorm lobby. However, since we live in a world filled with sinners (like myself), there is a downside—where you inhabit right now may not give you much access to the universe. You may feel like you are in one of those bowls people put on their tables for decoration. Or, you may find yourself in a 77-gallon tank with plenty to explore and plenty of space for growth.

However, the question I leave is two-fold. First, how big is the heart that beats within our chests? Do we have an enlarged heart for people or do we live with a Grinch-like heart? Is our inner world expanding or contracting?

Second, are we creating large environments for growth or shrinking environments of perfection? Pastoral development asks the question whether we are contributing to increasing environmental footage or decreasing the square footage. And more poignantly, the answer may depend on this last question: How big is your inner world and is it contracting or expanding?

John Grys is the North American Division Ministerial Department Associate Director for Pastoral Professional Development