Fishy Behavior


“This is the fish bowl where we watched a goldfish named Pepper swim around and around in the same direction for nine years…Here’s a word of advice, son: Every once in a while, swim in the other direction.

Andy Sturt

These words of fatherly wisdom were delivered at a high school senior class capping ceremony. All of us who were bestowed with the honor of capping a graduate were given a couple of minutes to offer our sentimental reflections, our praise, our encouragement, and our guiding counsel.

When Andy and Maria Sturt took the stage to honor their son, Ryan, they worked the stage like seasoned theater performers. (I would find out later that they are seasoned theater performers.) They even employed stage props to reinforce their message. Brilliant. Obviously, the fish bowl stuck with me. After they crisply worked through their prop-supported routine, blending lighthearted humor, familial sentiment and sound counsel, they exited the stage to hearty applause.

Suddenly, I wanted to take another crack at my presentation. I didn’t know we could be funny. I didn’t know we could use props. Still, I couldn’t help chuckling to myself about Pepper the goldfish swimming in circles until he developed a kink in his side.

I mean, I thought that was funny—until I started feeling kind of fishy. As I began to recognize myself in that goldfish, my chuckling started to feel a little uncomfortable.

I’ve been swimming around in a certain set of circumstances for nearly nine years now. As I swim in circles, the scenery never changes. There’s the plastic seaweed, the treasure chest, and the rock.

Seaweed, chest, rock.

Seaweed, chest, rock.

Seaweed, chest, rock.

Around and around I go, with a gravel floor underneath me and a glass barrier surrounding me. I keep circling and circling, looking for a way out, but feeling hemmed in. While swimming loop after loop, I’m searching for clues, surveying my surroundings, seeking to make some new discovery that will lead to my escape.

Seaweed, chest, rock.

It suddenly occurred to me that the fish bowl that confines me is not my set of circumstances, but my response to those circumstances. In my heart there is an invisible barrier that leaves me feeling trapped and isolated. The glass enclosure says there is no hope on the inside, and no help from the outside.

But the fish bowl doesn’t really exist. It’s a deceitful suggestion of the enemy.When we believe the lie, we start swimming in circles, getting caught up in our own circular current.

To swim differently is a matter of seeing differently. We have to stop seeing barriers that are not there, and start seeing the invisible God who is there. Faith radically changes our view of things because we not only see the seaweed, the chest, and the rock, but we see Him.

And to see Him is to realize that we are swimming, not in a fish bowl, but in an infinite ocean of love and grace.

 Are you a “Pepper,” too? How have you engaged in fishy behavior?



12 thoughts on “Fishy Behavior

  1. Wow. Dave. Just, wow. Yeah, I’ve been the one swimming around in circles in my thoughts of rejection and condemnation. Soooo been there. Your profound “the fish bowl that confines me is not my set of circumstances, but my response to those circumstances.” Struck right where it needed to. That truth is impacting. I need to change the way I perceive my circumstances and respond differently. With the perspective that I am swimming in an “infinite ocean of love and grace.”

    So glad you’re blogging again. I was just thinking today, I missed your pictures and posts. 🙂

    • Jeanne, thank you for your warm ‘welcome back’ to blog-ville. I am so glad you found something in this post that connected with you. It took me a while to write this message because it took me a while to “hear” it. I’m still trying to let the truth sink in. Fishy habits, you know.
      Thank you for sharing something from your own experience and for helping me to process the truth about God and the ocean we’re swimming in.

  2. to see Him is to realize that we are swimming, not in a fish bowl, but in an infinite ocean of love and grace.
    What a truth! I copied it in a journal I keep in my purse to remind me.

  3. Ummmm……

    Dave, yeah, the bowl’s there, at least for me. Severe and unrelenting upper-abdominal pain (akin to a gunshot wound, and I know whereof I speak) bounds what I can do, and has pulled the limits in closer with each passing week. Right now, if I try to stand up from the computer, I will likely pass out. I’ll have to crawl to the sofa where I will try to rest. Not sleep. Just rest.

    I’m not fishing for pity. Don’t need it, don’t want it, and it’s unhealthy for both the donor and recipient. Life is good.

    But my world, and even my faith, are profoundly affected by the physical realities I face. Every moment is a choice to continue living, continue dreaming. Plan for a future that everyone says is lost to me, and wouldn’t I like some nice pain pills?

    No thanks. I’ll take the pain and the hopeless fight, because that’s where God lives.

  4. Ouch! I’ve been swimming around, feeling trapped, for the last two years. I don’t like my situation and I’ve let that become the glass bowl that separates me from contentment and joy. God’s desire is that I swim freely, surrendering to Him and choosing to be joyful.

    • Wow, Sherry, you have gotten right to the heart of the matter–“the glass bowl that separates me from contentment and joy.” Now I’m saying, “Ouch!” Freedom and joy are indeed the gifts God offers us through Christ. He wants us to daily receive those gifts by faith. Thank you for sharing your comments, Sherry.

  5. Well, yes, I am a Pepper, but you didn’t have to so bluntly point it out. I have to say, even though I’m a little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable knowing how close to home this post hits, I’m still chuckling about “Seaweed, chest, rock.” That’s really funny. Lots of times I change faster when I can laugh about what I’m doing. Thanks, Dave. Happy you’re back. I might follow suit in a few months. 🙂 You know, when I get tired of the seaweed, chest, rock.

    • ‘Lots of times I change faster when I can laugh about what I’m doing.”
      I think you have made a very insightful observation here, Kim. There is a kind of laughter that is good for our souls and beneficial to our spiritual growth.
      I am so glad you shared your thoughts, Kim. Thank you for the “welcome back.” I hope to soon welcome you back to blogs-ville.

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