For the past several weeks, my family and I have been watching with great fascination as five ugly mail-order caterpillars amazingly transformed into beautiful butterflies. It has been an interesting thing indeed.
First we watched the caterpillars double then triple in size. Then we watched as they each made their way to the top of the habitat to dangle, as if by a single thread, and wait to spin the cocoon. Finally, we observed them one by one emerge from the crysalis stage as butterflies, proudly pumping their colorful new wings.
My son loved the opportunity to feed the butterflies a few drops of sugar water each day. He carefully dropped the water on the petals of bright flowers. And for several days the kids bid the butterflies goodnight before going to bed. I even found myself leaving a dim light on for them, in case they wanted to catch up on something they might have missed. (I know, I’m a real sap, aren’t I?)
Anyway, butterflies have such a short life span — usually no more than three or four weeks. And since they had been in the artificial habitat (a.k.a, cage) for several days, we knew that the time had come to release them into nature and let them do what they were created to do. So, this afternoon we did just that. My wife really wanted to keep them for a couple more days, but my son and daughter were ready to let them go. This morning the butterflies had all made their way to the top of the cage as if to say, “Hey, let me outta here.” I think that had something to do with my son’s decision to make today the release date.
As we opened up the flap on the cage, the butterflies cautiously fluttered out, one by one, making their way to various places around our house. One went into the street, and I immediately went to check on him (or her — how do you tell anyway?). Another made its way onto the roof for a brief time. The others found their way to the flowering shrubs out front and began consuming the sweet nectar.
I asked my son if he felt okay about letting the butterflies go, and I just loved his answer. He said, “Yeah, Daddy, I really do. You can’t hold onto things forever.”
Sometimes these gigantic doses of wisdom just burst forth from the mouths of children, and I find myself contemplating their meaning literally for hours. There are several lessons I have learned from the butterfly experience.
First, God has carefully and artfully prepared a transformation process for these creatures. He has done the very same thing for you and for me. Like the ugly caterpillars, we have a decision to make. Will we choose to put ourselves in the place where transformation can happen, or will we choose to continue crawling around on the increasingly littered floor of life until we die?
Second, God made the butterflies to live for a brief time on this earth, participating in the circle of life and adding grace and beauty to their surroundings. They best achieve that purpose when they’re allowed to experience freedom. Seeing the butterflies leave the artificial habitat was a scary thing in some crazy way. I’m sure it’s much like the anxiety every parent feels when they watch their children demonstrate increasing independence. But the greatest guarantee of their failure would be the choice to never let them be free at all.
Finally, I like the lesson that my son has apparently learned — that you can’t hold onto things forever. You know, I think that on so many levels we all struggle to accept that reality in our own lives. Look at the things we do hold onto: anger, sadness, bitterness, grief, jealousy, fear, negativity, addictions. . . the list could go on and on. The truth is that we could have held onto the butterflies forever, and they would have never been able to feel the wind beneath their wings, the sunshine on their backs, and the joy of doing what they were created to do. The same thing is true for us when we insist on holding onto certain things.
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (NIV)
What are you trying so hard to hold onto today? Let go. . .and enjoy the freedom of the butterflies. They don’t have very long to live. . .and it would be such a shame to waste that precious time in bondage. How much more true is that for us?