A re-post from the archives…as Spring begins and I think of new beginnings….
The caterpillars were repulsive. Spiked and striped, they writhed on every tree trunk and squirmed on the west side of every building at the reception center. Around us, the wedding was in full swing….children in white dresses, beautiful flowers everywhere, music dancing through the warmth of an early summer evening. But my children were enthralled with the worms, at the same time attracted to and repulsed by their ugliness. They held their breaths and inched bravely closer to the squirming grubs, then ran away screaming and laughing with a mixture of fascination and horror.
With our youngest on my hip, I stooped to study a worm more closely. The older two children listened with interest as I explained that these fat, wriggly little grubs that looked so fearsome and disgusting with their soft, segmented bodies covered with ugly spikes would one day become butterflies. Butterflies? These ugly worms? This, the children wanted to see. We took a plastic cup from the punch bowl, scraped in several worms with a stick (nobody was volunteering to pick them up with their bare hands!) and covered the cup with a scrap of white netting from a nearby decoration.
At home, we put the grubs in a large glass jar. There wasn’t time to put in sticks, but I was sure that we would have plenty of time the next day to give the caterpillars something on which to spin their cocoons. To my surprise, when we woke the next morning the larva had already spun cocoons! With no stick to hang from, the worms were not able to spin their whole bodies into the cocoons. Instead, white silk encased the bottom three-fourths of each worm while the worm’s heads and a bit of their bodies were hanging out! These three strange little packages lay at the bottom of the jar, clearly still alive and yet unfinished. I didn’t see any way that these incomplete cocoons could hatch into a butterfly without the head of the worm inside…wouldn’t the butterfly have no head? Would they hatch at all? But the children wanted to see what would happen, so we carefully glued the spun-ends of each cocoon onto a stick and waited.
To my surprise, several weeks later the cocoons hatched! Inside the jar were the remains of the cocoons, and drops of a blackish substance had oozed down the glass and pooled under each cocoon. The head segments of each worm lay with the remains of the cocoons, as dead as the silk and dried to an empty shell. And yet, amazingly, three butterflies clung to the stick in the jar!
I was amazed that even without the entire worm, a butterfly could have emerged from those strange cocoons. But when I examined the butterflies carefully, my amazement grew! They were beautiful creatures, looking nothing at all like the ugly worms they had been. And yet, because the entire body of each worm had not been in the cocoons, the butterflies were incomplete. They had beautiful indigo wings edged with black. Their thin and graceful bodies had perfect heads with feathered, arching antennae, tiny black eyes and a curled proboscis. To our delight inside the black boarders of each wing ran a row of tiny white hearts.
But each butterfly was missing something. One had only four legs and its delicate black body was slightly shortened. Another had two holes in its wings, one in each canvas of vibrant blue. The third was missing one set of wings entirely, its right side a beautiful display of iridescent indigo, black and white…the left a crumbled stump that left the creature unbalanced and unable to fly.
What had happened? How had these butterflies developed at all, when part of the worm had not even been used in their development? How could a butterfly develop, complete with a perfect head, when the heads of the worms were still lying at the bottom of the jar? I knew that butterflies were an amazing example of metamorphosis, and a powerful analogy for how God can take something small, ugly and wretched and change it to something graceful and beautiful. What I didn’t know about butterflies changed my heart and taught me something I hope never to forget.
Inside the cocoon, the changes taking place are far more profound than I had imagined. The grub, wrapped in its silk shroud and hidden from view, is not slowly growing wings. The worm is not gradually developing the characteristics of a butterfly, adding new parts on and altering the old to take on a new look. Inside the cocoon, something far more profound is taking place.
The worm as we know it has died. There is no gradual development of new limbs and new features….the worm itself is gone! In its place is a black sludge, the sort of goo we associate with complete and utter decomposition. Floating in the goo somewhere are a few vital organs that have not completely broken down, but there is nothing recognizable as a caterpillar left. The cells are alive, but liquefied. It is from this black liquid, this complete and utter destruction of the original worm, that the butterfly is pieced together. It is truly a new creature! God has taken the cells, broken them beyond recognition, caused the old creature to exist no more, and built something completely new from the pieces.
And the missing parts? Oh, Christian! The missing parts speak so strongly to my heart. For God to make the whole and beautiful new creature He had planned, He needed all of the worm. The worm had to die, it had to become dead black sludge for God’s plan to work perfectly. When we fail to submit All of our heart to God’s will…even when God’s will is that the old must die, when we fail to give it all to him and truly die to self we find that we are incomplete. We emerge with broken wings and incomplete hearts, we limp along when we could be flying high. When we give it all to God, He works every part of it, yes every ugly detail…to His good. He takes the loathsome worm, and from dead black sludge he brings forth a jeweled and graceful butterfly! He asks for nothing less than total submission to His will…nothing less than the death of the old self. But we can trust completely that His plans for us are beautiful! We can trust that He will change us completely, make us a new creature, and give us wings to fly!
Lord, what more can I submit to you today? Thank you for the example of caterpillars and butterflies, for if you can daily work such miracles with them what amazing things will you do when we submit our human hearts to you!
Butterfly photo from Big Box of Art