Couple weeks ago, I was invited to dinner at one of our church deacon’s home. They have two little boys, and I got to see something cool for the first time. Their older son had gotten a butterfly cocoon from a museum, and it was in an insect cage. The butterfly happened to emerge from the chrysalis during our dinner, and we all got excited! They had an instruction manual that said NOT to touch the butterfly, but to put in a branch in the cage. We did just that. We stared at the butterfly, and it did nothing. In fact, we all commented on how drab and ugly it looked. About another hour into our conversation, I suddenly saw the butterfly open its wings, and it was colorful and beautiful. I know I learned about metamorphosis in school (few times I’m sure) but witnessing it for the first time was pretty phenomenal… and I learned more about the life cycle of butterflies at this moment than I had from textbooks.
Two days later, I had dinner with a good friend of mine. We were talking about struggles of parenting (although I don’t have children, as a minister to children and families this is a topic I take great interest in). She told me about a story she had read online about why it’s important to allow your children to struggle through life experiences. It’s apparently a pretty famous story (that I had never heard before)… and I even found several different versions online. This was my favorite version:
Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.
The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.
One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.
The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.
At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!
The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!
As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.
But neither happened!
The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.
It never was able to fly…
As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.
Wow! I never knew this… (or I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to have learned this fact!). I learned TWO amazing life lessons through butterflies this week:
- Yes, struggling is an important part of growth experience! In fact, it’s the struggle that gives you stronger wings to fly! Not only parents but churches/ministries often make the mistake of raising children, youth, and adult congregation members in a bubble. We don’t allow people to struggle… we often tell them how to think, feel, respond, and act as Christians… when what we need to do is allow them to struggle through their decisions with our guidance. We need to let those God has entrusted to us to come to their own convictions through struggles (even if they arrive at undesired decisions at the time). We need to allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. We need to allow people to develop stronger wings so that they can fly even when they’re no longer part of our ministries.
- Eye witness and experience teaches us more than textbooks. I know that metamorphosis of butterflies is part of primary and secondary science curriculum… I vaguely remember the diagrams in my textbooks. However, the details of this lesson never stuck… but when I saw the butterfly emerging from the pupa with my own eyes, I was completely fascinated by the process… and I haven’t forgotten the details because I experienced the wow of the butterfly pumping fluid into its wings. Experience will always trump information transfer!
I took this photo of a moth in Minneapolis couple of years ago… I thought it was pretty amazing then… but I now have a whole new appreciation for these beautiful strong wings!