The Caterpillar and the Bear

The story of the butterfly is a beautiful metaphor for spiritual transformation. The humble caterpillar spins itself a silky cocoon or chrysalis, undergoes metamorphosis, and emerges a glorious butterfly, taking flight and fulfilling its purpose taking nectar from flowers to pollinate plants. We think of the butterfly when we long for transformation or self improvement.

As inspiring as the butterfly story is…are there ever days when you wish you could go back into the cocoon? The butterfly has already experienced its miracle. There is no more transforming to be done. The work is finished. The excitement of the metamorphosis is over and you are left with a sense that the butterfly is “done” or “finished” growing. This thought leaves me feeling wistful and maybe a little bit sad.

Spiritual growth is not linear. We don’t move along a straight path our entire lives. We grow in spurts. We move forward. We retreat. We stall out. We leap forward. Sometimes we long to be the safe caterpillar resting deeply in its chrysalis. And other times we glory in floating like a butterfly.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to compare our spiritual lives to a hibernating bear. There are times throughout our lives that we need to turn inward. To rest, to contemplate, to remove ourselves from the busy outerworld. A bear knows it’s time to hibernate when it senses shortages in food and colder temperatures. If we know ourselves well enough, we can recognize our own signs that it’s time to hibernate. We are running low on energy or hope or even faith. Those are the times we need to draw inward. To let God nourish us and take care of us. Retreating is a critical step in the process of spiritual growth.

But there has never been a bear who stays in hibernation forever. They come out when the season calls for it, to fulfill their purpose as bears. Our own time of retreat can refresh us, restore us, and yes—even transform us. But the work is never really finished. A time will come again to rest and contemplate, followed by new spiritual awakenings each and every season. Our transformation may not come in a glorious burst of brightly-colored butterfly wings, but instead a slower and more gentle process.

This week I encourage you to look back over your seasons of hibernation and awakening. How do you feel when you emerge from a time of rest? What new insights did you learn about yourself? Are you good at recognizing when you need to draw inward and be held by a loving and miraculous God?

Created, Chosen, and Called

Women of faith tend to put people on pedestals. Biblical figures and saints become images of idealized perfection, in a category all to their own – so high up, we could never reach them.  Even our contemporaries can be raised up to this status.

We compare ourselves to these individuals and come up short. Our acts of faith aren’t dramatic enough. Our pain isn’t severe enough. We’re always going to be “not enough”, because we aren’t seeing ourselves through the loving eyes of God. Our measuring stick always gets in the way. We create these categories in our minds. This group is special and worthy because of their acts of goodness or their noble suffering. They are set apart and I am not a part of that group. I don’t belong there.

It’s so important to see how this pedestal mentality—this super-sized admiration—affects our relationship with God. How it colors how we see ourselves in God’s plan and design. Or more accurately, where we see ourselves in God’s plan. 

Are there times we don’t see ourselves anywhere at all? 

The measuring stick comes out again. We measure the idealized perfection of these saintly figures against “whatever we are.” If you found your way to this blog post today, I want you to believe that you matter! That what you do matters. And the reason I can be so confident in saying this is because of what I call the three c’s.  

God CREATED you.
God CHOSE you.
God CALLED you.

God CREATED you:

The best way to make this shift in our thinking is to begin with pondering our own creation. God created us from the dust and breathed life into us. Genesis 2:7 says “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Isn’t that beautiful? Take a moment to picture the God of Love breathing Spirit into you at the moment of your creation. How could anyone feel small or ordinary or inadequate knowing that? 

We also know that God created us in His own image. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  That is no small thing! Our very existence is an intimate act of union with our Creator.

God CHOSE you:

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4) God chose us. How beautiful! About 20 years ago I attended a retreat (and I’m sorry to say that I no longer remember the name of the speaker,) but she said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning because it had truly never occured to me: “God has a plan and a purpose for you. And He made you exactly the way He needs you to be.” I have never forgotten this quote and I try to incorporate it into almost every retreat I give, particularly to women and young girls.  

“God has a plan and a purpose for you. 
And He made you exactly the way He needs you to be.”

It all but destroys the measuring stick. God’s love doesn’t measure.  It doesn’t tally results or put us in a pecking order. God’s love has no conditions. The rules about who is loveable and who is not are erased. Our God does not compare, but instead offers us a love that is perfect and selfless. It isn’t something we receive only if we deserve it. It’s a gift freely given.

God CALLED you:

What are we being called to do? Who are we being called to be? These aren’t easy questions to answer! A good place to start is by recognizing your gifts. Remember: God made you exactly the way He needs you to be!

In my experience, most women are not good at recognizing our gifts. In fact, some of us could earn an Olympic medal in pointing out our own flaws. But when it comes to knowing what we’re good at…our tongues get tied. Our minds draw a blank. The measuring stick comes out again.  

And so I challenge you today to answer the question: What am I good at? I promise you it’s not arrogance or vanity to ponder this question. It’s a simple acknowledgment of how you’ve been gifted by God. You can express it with a sense of gratitude. If you’re really struggling answering this question, I would suggest that you ask someone you love to answer it.  What am I good at?  You might be surprised at what they tell you.

So the next time you think about the women you have put up on a pedestal, look in the mirror instead, and see yourself with the eyes of God. Repeat these words:

God created ME.
God chose ME.
God called ME.

Background photo by Vincentiu Solomon on Unsplash

God Never Changes

Live every day like your favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor might be discontinued.

This may sound like strange advice (and a guaranteed way to raise your cholesterol!) but I’m using it as a metaphor to talk about permanence…or more the lack of permanence in our world. 

In 2004 Ben & Jerry debuted Dublin Mudslide as a new, limited edition flavor. It became a fan favorite and was quickly promoted to a full-time flavor. I absolutely loved it! It was my number one dessert year round. For three blissful years, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this ice cream—until it was suddenly and without warning discontinued and sent to the B&J “Flavor Graveyard” in 2007. (I have since learned that there are over 30 flavors in the Flavor Graveyard. Perhaps your favorite was laid to rest there too?)

Before this becomes a foodie blog, let me get back to my metaphor. Not much is permanent in this life. We know this. Situations change. People come and go from our lives. The job you counted on gets eliminated. Your trusted doctor retires. The friend you thought you could rely on doesn’t show up for you. And yes, even your favorite ice cream flavor disappears. Nothing brought this lack of permanence into starker reality than the pandemic, which changed almost everything about the way we were living our lives. We couldn’t count on anything during those first frantic months of lockdowns! 

Focusing on the impermanence of life can lead to a lot of fear and anxiety. Not knowing when things might change leaves us feeling untethered to any sense of safety or security. So how can we move through our days free from this lingering fear? By remembering this:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8)

One thing we never have to worry about changing or disappearing is the unfailing faithfulness of God. We never need to doubt God’s love for us, God’s presence in our lives, or God’s plans for us. 

God was in the beginning. God is now. God will always be.

How does this knowledge affect how we respond to change in our lives and in the world? Knowing that God never changes gives us something to cling to. Something we can trust and depend on. God is the Rock of Ages. This stability…this rock-solid belief and certainty helps us move through times of change and loss without falling apart.

My story has a happy ending. A few months ago…fifteen years after being sent to the Flavor Graveyard, Dublin Mudslide is back! I’m enjoying it now with a new sense of appreciation. This delicious treat is part of my present now, and I’m going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts!

God At Work in Us

Embrace the ways in which God is working in you

When looking for purpose in your life, time can feel like an enemy. Is it too late? Can God really be calling me to this new thing at my age? Have I missed my chance? Am I just too old to learn new spiritual tricks?

The answers to these questions are…NO!

People begin new things all the time. My husband didn’t start running until he was 40. He didn’t start playing basketball until a few years after that. I learned to crochet at the age of 51. One of my favorite social media follows—Babs Costello of “Brunch with Babs”—is a 72 year-old grandmother who is now a viral sensation with a best-selling cookbook. 

As we move through life and become entrenched in certain habits, it’s easy to feel that there is less and less room to grow in our spiritual lives. But it’s important to remember that God never stops working in us. We are a work in progress right up until our very last day here on this earth. If we can learn new hobbies or skills later in life, why can’t we learn new ways of praying, new spiritual practices, or new ways of connecting to our loving God?

Resist the temptation to remain stuck wherever you’ve landed in your faith life. Open your heart to God and embrace the ways in which God is working in you. Be willing to follow a path that you might not have imagined for yourself. 

Spiritual growth is the process of getting more in touch with your inner life, your relationship with God, and the workings of your heart. It’s a movement towards wholeness. Our spirituality is not static. It’s a constantly changing experience. It’s different through different stages of life and even from day to day.

How well do you know your own heart? Do you hide from it? Does it keep secrets from you? Do you resist what your heart is feeling, or where it is leading? Take some time to look inward. To examine all the intricate pathways of your heart and your life’s journey. Look for patterns. What can you learn from joyful times, from heartbreak, from confusion and doubt? All of these experiences lead to growth.

Remember, God created the universe and all that lives within it. In the words of William Reiser, S.J. in his book The Potter’s Touch:

“Creation is not yet finished because we are not yet finished. Our particular, individual creations are still taking place with God taking the creative and loving initiative in our souls.” 

Each day is an opportunity to experience ways in which we are being created by our loving God.

I’d love to hear from you! Share a story of how you embraced a new spiritual practice in your life.