"Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge." – Proverbs 14:26
A little girl found a dull brown butterfly cocoon on a branch in her backyard. She carefully broke off the branch and placed it in a big jar on her homework desk, adding leaves and grass to make it "home". She watched each day for a winged beauty to emerge. A few days later, as she sat doing her math with the jar close by, she glimpsed movement. Sure enough, tiny legs and curled antennae protruded from a small slit in the cocoon.
Delighted, she gently carried the twig outside and placed it in on the front steps to watch her butterfly come to life. But after more than an hour had passed, very little of the butterfly had come out of the cocoon. Its struggles stopped, but the little antennae still waved about determinedly. Now seeing the cocoon as a prison instead of a safe and natural wrapping, the little girl began peeling it away, surprised to see it tear like delicate tissue paper from end to end. Finally freed, a pudgy creature stumbled out onto the ground, wet and shriveled wings folded tightly against its body.
As the little girl watched, no wings came springing forth. No graceful ascent into the warm summer afternoon. The little butterfly just moved in clumsy circles on the ground, slower and slower, until in time it died. The little girl wept and put the butterfly in the flowerbed.
What the little girl didn't know is that the butterfly's struggle to emerge from the tiny opening in its cocoon is essential for its survival. When a caterpillar enters the cocoon, it changes utterly and completely; it literally breaks down inside its casing until nothing about it even hints at “caterpillar”. Only its DNA says “butterfly”...that, and the tiny specks on its body that are called “wing buds”. By God’s amazing design, though, a butterfly does happen, and when the process is complete (when it’s time), the butterfly emerges, rests safely for a spell and the rises airborne instinctively, in search of food and a mate.
God’s design for the butterfly doesn’t include human interference, though. Does the butterfly struggle? You bet it does. It endures great pressure, much squeezing, and probably moments when death feels near, as it moves from darkness into light. Squeezing its bulky body through that opening is God's design for the extra fluids in its body to be forced into the delicate framework of veins within its wings, enabling them to unfold and dry sufficiently for flight. Without the struggle, the butterfly's body is unnaturally full of liquid, and it will not survive.
God requires struggle in the life of every creature in His kingdom. Physical struggle first...even human babies benefit enormously from the contractions along the birth canal. But with humans, the struggle continues. It becomes spiritual. Pressure and challenges (and disciplining!) can be used by God to make us stronger, if we allow it. We cannot be what God designed us to be if there is always someone there to peel away our cocoons. It is a hard truth for those of us who love someone that’s struggling, but it’s a truth nonetheless.
Like the little girl in the story, we are often tempted to help that loved one in the midst of their struggle. Our woman’s tender heart wants to “fix” and “rescue” whatever is in distress. God made us that way…but we are challenged to discern when our help is helpful, and when it defeats whatever change God is intent on bringing about in that person. Sometimes that loved one may feel utterly trapped in there, suffocating, and there’s just no strength to move into the light. “How,” they plead, “can I possibly fit through the way out??…and yet I feel like I will die in here.” Because we love them, and because it’s so hard to watch them struggle, we’re quick to try peeling back whatever cocoon is imprisoning them. Our intentions are good, but our efforts are clumsy. And worst of all, we don’t have all the details; only God does. We get in His way, and the struggle He designed is interrupted: the squeezing is lessened, the pressure lightened, and the wings can’t expand. So, no flight. No flower. At least, not the ones God's got set aside for this particular "butterfly".
Without struggle, there can be no triumph. You and I, we’ve heard sayings like, “No pain, no gain!” I like something penned by Tertullian, an early Christian author: “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” Not only does the one struggling need patience as he/she struggles toward the light (and sometimes that is wrestling with God), but those of us watching the struggle must be patient as well. There is a time for us to take our hands off, and stand back: for a mother or a sister or a friend, probably the hardest thing in the world to do.
But that’s where our faith comes in -- what measure we have of it. We have enough faith to believe that Jesus raised Lazarus, and that Moses parted the Red Sea. Why? Because God’s Word says it’s so, and that has been enough for us all along. We have faith that Jesus’ death and resurrection were enough to save our souls. Why? Because as believers, we have an undeniable “before” and “after” (2 Cor. 5:17). Based on – what else? – God’s Word.
And there, in that same Word, lies our role in this thing, this allowing our loved one to struggle : bringing them in fervent prayer to the feet of the Father. God, acting on our faith and patience and prayers, will prevail. If we’ll just get out of His way.
Is your heart poised to peel open a cocoon? Ready to stop someone’s struggle, beat God’s timing and free the one you care about in your own way? Stand back, and pray. And have “faith, with the lamp lit”, and watch God work: He’s transforming that one who’s struggling, and He’s got two things waiting for them on the outside:
Flowers … and a flight plan.