When people think of butterflies, they often think of it flying about with its colourful wings, reflecting the rays of sunlight. People rarely think about the steps the butterfly took to get where it is now…the time spent in the cocoon, incubated in darkness, waiting to be fully formed so it can be strong enough to fly. Maya Angelou says, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
Every butterfly started out as a caterpillar…and many inspirational stories of hope have their beginnings in a time of darkness, pain, suffering. So what then can we learn from the butterfly?
Incubating in Darkness
Susan Monk Kidd wrote in When the Heart Waits, "To incubate means to create the conditions necessary for development." Such conditions include darkness. Kidd states that darkness is crucial to the process of incubating a new form of life, for it to grow and emerge. Even babies are incubated in darkness in the womb while they wait for birth. Therefore, waiting in darkness does not have to symbolise a terrible process. We can be grateful for this period because this darkness has created conditions necessary for our development and growth.
If you have read my previous post on "Growing from Pain," you can see how darkness in one's life can actually be a positive thing. This time of waiting in the dark can be spent waiting on God to change you and develop you to be the person He wants you to be to further His purpose.
I have waited during several periods of darkness in my life. My greatest period of darkness was when I had just turned 18 years old. I had just been diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, and several months later, I was cast off by my immediate family because of stressful family issues. I was eager to start university in the fall of 2006 at the same time of my peers, but I was not yet ready. My stamina was still not up to par. My heart was still healing. My wings were not fully formed. I emerged from my cocoon in January 2007, after my period of waiting and being incubated in darkness, and found that I emerged at the perfect time to attend the university where God wanted me to attend so I can meet the friends He wanted me to meet. During my first semester of college in spring 2007, my wings were strong and agile. I got a part-time job, a leadership position, enrolled in a fitness class, and found the heart to agree to meet my biological father.
My next period of darkness occurred when I was 23, a couple months shortly after I just got married. My illness had flared up for the second time that year, and I was frustrated and angry at God, wondering why He couldn't let me live a normal life.
But I think God was saying, "I want more than a 'normal' life for you. I want you to develop a heart of compassion. I want you to use again the gift of writing I had given to you. I want you to reach out to the broken and hurting people and give them hope…hope that I can give you while you are waiting in your darkness."
"Like the butterfly, I have the strength and the hope to believe, in time I will emerge from my cocoon…Transformed."
There is a parable about a man who found a butterfly cocoon and decided to save it. One day a small opening appeared, and the man watched as the butterfly struggled to force its body through the little hole. After a while, it seemed like the butterfly could not make any more progress. The man then took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily.
However, it emerged with a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. Although it had emerged from the cocoon, it was unable to fly because the wings were not fully formed.
The moral of this story is that although he had good intentions, the man did not understand that the butterfly was not yet ready to emerge from the cocoon. It needed its struggles in the cocoon to make it stronger so that it can fully form its wings. The incubation in darkness was creating the conditions necessary to ready its wings so that it can take flight once it emerged from the cocoon.
If we try to break out of our cocoon too soon, we may emerge with shriveled wings and are unable to reach our full potential because we were impatient during our time of waiting.
Patience has never been one of my strongest virtues. I am still "waiting" in my cocoon right now. A couple months ago, I was filling out an application for the Master's in Social Work program at the University of Washington. I figured that since I was not able to attend my MSW program the year before because of my illness, I can try again. But then I realized, as much as I have the right intentions and the desire to attend graduate school - I was not ready yet. My medications were still not stable. My stamina was still not to par. My wings were not yet fully formed. I was still waiting on God to create the right conditions so that when I emerge, I can fly easily and freely. Today, I trust God that when I do finally emerge from my cocoon - my time spent incubated in darkness will have given me fully formed wings for His purpose.
Many Christians also see the butterfly as a "symbol of hope" as it characterizes the process of disappearing into the cocoon and appearing dead, and then emerging into a beautiful and more powerful creature than before. Like the butterfly, when we emerge from our cocoons, we can trust that we will be stronger than before. The transformation completed during the incubation in darkness has enabled us to fly freely and show off our beautiful colours.
Where are you in life right now? Are you spending your time, incubated in darkness, waiting on God to transform you? Are you struggling to break out of your cocoon?
So whether you are waiting in a cocoon or flying around as a butterfly, relish the moment. Waiting in the cocoon is only preparing you for a stronger, more beautiful version of you. And if you are a butterfly, the colours formed on your wings reflect your lessons learned through your struggles during your time of incubation in darkness.