Wednesday, January 19, 2022

When You Feel Like Life Has Broken You Down

Like most of you, I'd never given much thought to how caterpillars turn into butterflies. I suppose I'd assumed a caterpillar went into its chrysalis, gradually transformed into a butterfly, and came out when it was finished.

But I recently heard a story on NPR about caterpillar metamorphosis and learned I was completely wrong. When you dissect a chrysalis, you don't find a caterpillar in the process of turning into a butterfly. It's just full of... goo. 

Caterpillars don't go into their chrysalis and immediately start sprouting wings. The first thing that happens is that their body breaks down. Their organs dissolve. Tissues die. The expert interviewed on the radio jokingly called it "caterpillar soup." 

It turns out that metamorphosis is less of an evolution and more of a complete demolition and rebuild. And the crazy part is, science doesn't really understand how it all works: we just know that somehow, that mush of cells and structures gets rearranged into a butterfly.

As we're rounding out the second winter of this pandemic that we all surely thought would be over by now, and as we think about the New Year's resolutions we're already failing at (or never felt motivated enough to attempt in the first place), we can all learn a few things from caterpillars.

First lesson: big transformations are messy. We're wired to like small change. Change that's straightforward and linear, where every day we get a little bit better. But there's a limit to how much self-improvement can be made that way.

Can we acquire new habits bit by bit? Sure. Make small tweaks to our behavior? Absolutely. But when we're talking about major overhauls to our character, things get a lot more uncomfortable and uncertain. Big changes are going to involve some dismantling first. We've simply got to make room for the new creature that's going to be rebuilt in our place.

That's easy to say, but hard to remember when you're in the middle of a heartbreaking loss or a devastating crisis. As Christians, we believe that trials exist to refine us! As optimists, we want to say that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger! But the fact is, you can't emerge a butterfly without spending at least some time (and sometimes it's a long time) feeling like caterpillar soup.

Second lesson: we don't know exactly how metamorphosis works. Going from sludge to breathtaking creature isn't the kind of thing there's a manual for. It might seem impossible to us, but fortunately we're not left to our own devices. 

If you're in the "caterpillar soup" stage of your transformation, there's not much anyone can do or say to make things easier right now, but just you wait. Jesus Christ is the One who knows how to eventually rebuild you into a butterfly. You can rely on Him.

I don't know how He does it, but I've seen it in my own life and the lives of people I hope to be like one day. And I know He'll do it for you. Just hang on.

If you're wondering what Jesus can do for your life or how you could connect with Him better, the author invites you to start exploring that question here. Even (and maybe especially) if you feel like caterpillar soup.

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Kassie said...

Beautifully put.

Angela said...

Thank you for sharing this. I have, of course, heard this metaphor used before, but the way you described it was exactly what I needed at a time when nothing seems to bring comfort. Thank you :)