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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morgan McAtee

Gospel in Butterflies

There was a time when I needed my faith to be defined by exact certainty, dogma and proof-texts. My world was black and white, or at least that is the only way I could see it. Those days were necessary and good and I have a nostalgic place for them. However, I have found that way of being to be stifling to what the Spirit of God is doing in the real world and in creation.

For over 20 years I have been butterfly gardening and raising butterflies at home. Much of my faith transformation was reinforced by what I observed in the garden. God in Christ came to earth in a man we call Jesus. He showed us how to leave our old hellish lives behind and be rebirthed in him, in Love. We are invited into the kingdom of God today. That redemptive story, good news, or Gospel is told throughout our beautiful creation, even in butterflies.

It turns out, that when one is open to finding God in everything, he shows up everywhere. He showed up in my butterfly work in surprising ways and some of those are shared in my new 40-day study book.

For instance, one of the most obvious lessons from butterflies is that complete life is found now, IN THE PROCESS. Somehow, my childhood faith veered off course from how God’s creation and world works. It would selfishly and naively ask God to do instant magic to fix my problems or look for an escape hatch. The reality of God’s universe is that he didn’t set it to work that way. He is ultimate wisdom and is not in our time-frame. Most of what he does involves a process, and unlike us, he is in no rush. This is why it is so important for us to develop patience.

The idea of process can be seen throughout ancient scriptures. So can the idea of a magic God who waves his hand and fixes everything instantly. Which is it?

We have to ask ourselves which one do we see more of in our daily experiences and spiritual walks. The faith of my upbringing tended towards instant, immediate, ultimate solutions. But that is not how I saw God working in nature, circumstances and my life.

That’s not to say that God can’t and doesn’t do breakthrough miracles. It is to say that most of his miracles look differently than how we want them to look. What I see more of is his invitation to walk with him through the struggle and then come out better and stronger in faith because of it. It’s a brilliant surprise ending, like a butterfly!

40 Days

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Every butterfly is different. Location, temperature, climate, season, year, species, food-sources, rainfall and other factors influence development time. However, we can generalize in warmer climates, like Florida, and say that a butterfly lives about 40 days. This includes about 10 days in each stage: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and adult.

Forty days is significant in scripture because it is used over and over as a mark for a time of tribulation, correction and growth. It can represent a season of testing involving hardship before a victory, restoration or brilliant surprise ending.

In the Hebrew scriptures (also called the Old Testament) Noah’s flood was 40 days and nights. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai and interceded for Israel for 40 days. Joshua’s spies cased out Canaan’s promised land for 40 days. Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before young David killed him with a sling-shot. Elijah ran from Jezebel, traveling 40 days to Mt. Horeb.

Jesus was temped for 40 days and nights in Matthew’s gospel and finally, there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in the book of Acts.

Eternal Life Today

My childhood faith was mostly focused on getting to a distant heaven one day and convincing others to do the same. It was an admirable aim, but in many ways it missed the point. It didn't teach about living lovingly as a child of God here, today. That framework resulted in a really dismal existence between here and there. I was living to die and go to heaven. There was a disconnect about finding God in the present, in the beautiful world of creation.

Many wise teachers, including Jesus, remind us to live within the boundaries of today. This means we don't have to carry tremendous guilt or shame over what was in our pasts. It means not focusing on the future as if, somehow, we can manage it or hedge ourselves in from the dangers of tomorrow. The kingdom of God is here. It's now.

To live in the grace of today means to do what is required and good and right in front of us to do. It's naturally following peace. The results of our lives are the sum total of the daily habits, decisions and attitudes we have accumulated in the past. A snapshot of your life today is a fair measure of how well you have been living an abundant life. Do you like the picture you see? Does your life, in some ways, resemble the one you hope to have in heaven one day?

We must practice what we hope to become. Said another way, we must not practice what we do not want to become.

Let’s bring spirituality down to earth (and the garden), something I was not good at practicing in my early days of faith. Practically speaking, if your spiritual practices, relationships, health, work or finances aren’t working, there is probably something you can do to change that. All problems have spiritual solutions.

Mercifully, God partners with us when we move in a direction of restoration and healing, so we aren’t alone in this. But God isn’t going to slap a soda out of your hand, grant you a winning lotto ticket, or send price charming on his steed while you’re wasting your brain devouring trashy novels. We can't bring peace to the world while we have a daily practice of consuming conflict in the media. We are called to excellence in all things. Today is the day we can reverse the destructive process by incrementally making better decisions which will compound over time and change the course of our lives.

Yes, there are many factors in life that are beyond our control. Sometimes we find ourselves in unwanted spaces. Usually, we are the ones responsible for where we are, but sometimes, external forces play a part. Even still, making better decisions today can improve the situation. Doing nothing or repeating the same things guarantees another, worse level of hell is in our future.

It is possible to do our daily tasks joyfully and simultaneously hold hope for an instant miracle. The caterpillar dutifully does its daily grind for a season. It’s a simple life with specific requirements. If that caterpillar stays on task, eventually, and naturally, over a process, things will change, unbeknownst to it. One day, it will wake up with wings. This may seem like instant magic to an uninformed observer, but it is truly a result of God’s process. It was happening incrementally over the insect’s entire life. That’s the miracle!

If you are interested in more butterfly and spiritual parallels, please check out my new book, The Gospel in Butterflies, a 40-day metamorphosis into beautiful, transformative love.


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