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?

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