For my son’s sixth birthday this past May, my husband and I bought him a kit for growing butterflies. A small container holding five caterpillars arrived in the mail the day before his birthday, and the following morning he opened his presents and peered inside the small container at the five tiny black creatures, not yet moving much.

“Mom, are they alive?” he asked me with concern.

“Yes,” I assured him. “Hold the container really still and watch closely. You’ll see them move.”

And move they did. Over the next two weeks we watched the caterpillars get more and more active. They ate and grew and ate some more, and then one by one they made their way to the lid of their tiny plastic home, their little heads pointing down, and again became immobile while their tiny cocoons formed around them.

Soon another week had passed and the first wet, crumpled butterfly made its way out of its cramped confines and into the light. Over the next day, three more butterflies emerged. I found myself losing ten minutes here and there, engrossed in their gentle fluttery activity. We enjoyed watching them sip sugar water and fly about their little netted tower in our kitchen for a few short days. According to the kit’s instructions, they were to be released within a week so they could lay their eggs and complete their life cycle outdoors.

I love the way God uses nature and other creatures to teach us things about ourselves, and these short weeks with our butterflies reminded me of a few important things about life.

  1. We need to rest. Upon emerging from their cocoons, the butterflies spent a day walking around, getting a feel for their new bodies, and resting. They were actively discovering who they had become but waiting patiently for the right moment to fly. Each caterpillar transformed at its own unique pace, at just the right time. Sometimes we push ourselves so hard, when what we need to do is take a little time to learn, reflect, and just be.
  1. We need to be tuned in. The butterfly life cycle is short, typically 3 to 4 weeks. Each day brings changes and discoveries they must be ready for: Eating, skin splitting, cocoon making, liquidizing, reforming, emerging, egg laying. The process of transformation is one we must be actively engaged in as well if we desire to become who God created us to be. Unfortunately, not every step of transformation is pleasant. Ever feel like you’ve been through skin splitting or liquidizing? Me too. But God is faithful in this short life to see us through the ick to the beauty on the other side.
  1. We need to cut the safety net. The life of a butterfly is filled with danger. There are no guarantees of safety out in the world, but they fly anyway. They know what they were made to do, and their calling is stronger than their instinct to hide and protect themselves. Stepping out of our padded cocoons and engaging this planet is not safe. It might hurt – a lot. But if we stay inside, we miss the wonderful places our wings can take us. Our calling is far more powerful than our fears. We need to head out into the world, with its birds and lawnmowers and pesticides, and live anyway.
  2. We need to own our unique flight pattern. Did you know a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope? On the sunny afternoon we took the butterflies outside to release them, watching the different paths each one took, I began to understand why. As I unzipped the top of their home, one butterfly seemed to immediately sense freedom and took off into the sky and out of sight in a flash. Another fluttered off and landed in a nearby tree. Two stayed closer, one eventually flying just to the edge of the roof over our deck. And one hung back, settled comfortably on my finger, and seemed in no hurry to leave. Eventually I left her, perched on the roof of her little home. When I checked an hour later, of course she was gone.

Maybe we fly really fast. Or maybe we don’t venture very far. Maybe we’re afraid to fly at all. But how we fly compared to those around us doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we take off. Butterflies were made to fly, in a million different directions. And when we all stretch our wings into the wind, we can dazzle the world with our colors.

Butterfly, butterfly, fly far away,

There are wonderful things to see today;

Fly under the raindrops that fall from the sky,

Fly up to the treetops oh so high;

Butterfly, butterfly, you flew so fast,

Now you can rest, home at last.

– Unknown