During the women’s retreat last week, everywhere we looked there were these huge caterpillars crawling around. It served as a divine reminder to all of us of the way God uses process to transform us and of the change that these women were undergoing in their own personal lives.
After its time spent in the chrysalis, when the pupa is ready to emerge in a butterfly state, its body gathers up stored waste and pumps this waste into its thorax. This results in an expansion of its body, which splits apart the chrysalis. At this point, with the exterior broken open, the butterfly has more room to breathe and its breaths inflate its body further, enabling it to break away the chrysalis.
The butterfly emerges, but not as we typically picture them.
Its thorax is over-swollen from the waste fluids; its wings are small and crumpled. The butterfly is very vulnerable at this point and has two key tasks to accomplish: eject the amassed waste fluid and expand its wings before they dry. The waste fluid drips out of the body and blood is pumped into the wings, unfurling them. When the wings have expanded to their full capacity, the butterfly must wait with wings spread open until they harden. Any damage to the creature before it has dried can result in a failure to expand completely, crippling the butterfly. Once it has completely dried, it will flap its wings for a test or two then go to a flower or other location for its first feed. If it emerges at nightfall, it will rest until morning before taking flight.
The lessons from the butterfly are three:
- Sometimes, God in His dismantling and recreating doesn’t make waste disappear; we don’t shed it like a skin. Sometimes he gathers it all together—be it a conglomeration of hurts and poisons we’ve experienced, maybe the fruit of sins we keep wrestling with—and together they boil and swell in our gut until we feel we might burst from pain or shame. The point is not to make us break open; rather, He uses them to break a chrysalis open. He uses the hurt or sin to break us out and move us away from where we were. The amassed waste serves its purpose in propelling us forward, moving us to a new stage of development. Then when it has accomplished its purpose, we are to discard it. We are to let hurt and sin drip away until we are no longer inflated like balloons waiting to burst. If waste is used and then expelled, it isn’t really waste after all.
- Breathing expands you. The simple act of breathing can take you from one place to another. Right alongside hurt and recognition of our own sinfulness, we find an expanded capacity to breathe. In the things that threaten to crush us, we find God opening breathing spaces. And that does a work in us that pain alone cannot do. Simple dwelling and inhaling enables our souls to find new space to grow.
- Sometimes movement in a time of waiting not only limits our capacity to grow and expand; it can cripple us. A failure to rest can paralyze us. After major changes and growth, we can find ourselves vulnerable. When we wait fully, God can stretch us fully, unfurling our crumpled wings. He uses “drying time” in our lives so we open completely to be who He’s created us to be. Sometimes we have to settle, wings spread and wait out the night. Then with the first light of morning, we can fly freely and go feed, strong and ready, bright wings unfurling, unfurling, open to the sun.