Metamorphosis: Lessons from the Butterfly

butterfly

A package for me arrives in the school office, and as the children and I pass through on our way to the lunch room, I quickly stop and check the return address. I smile as I announce to the children, “It’s from the butterfly farm!” Squeals of excitement erupt through the line up, and they can hardly wait to finish their lunch so we can unpack the special delivery.

Tiny larvae wriggle in the transparent container as I pull it from the box, with the children’s expectant eyes all fixated on the box’s contents.

The questions begin:

What are they eating?

How come they’re so small?

How many are there?

How long will it take ‘til we have butterflies?

These little squirming critters don’t look very impressive.

“Gross!” exclaims one girl, and internally I agree! Wriggling around atop their food they are a little reminiscent of maggots.

“…how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”[1]

“Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”[2]

We place the containers in an empty fish tank in a prominent place in our classroom, ready to watch them eat and grow. Each day the children check on them to see if they are getting bigger. “Eat, guys, eat!” they urge.

By the end of the week they are ready to be moved into their own individual containers, an operation which has to be performed by me. Squeamishly I fish them out with a paintbrush and gently drop each one into it’s own small home with a lump of food: wheat germ and soy. Now they eat, writhe, and rapidly grow – but one of them doesn’t get any bigger and its food is left uneaten.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”[3]

The children are fascinated by these creatures’ acrobatics! The maturing caterpillars climb all over their containers and even hang upside down. Their skin changes color and they develop little spikes all over their bodies, like a suit of armor.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”[4]

Ten days go by, and finally one of them takes action and begins to form a chrysalis. It’s a beautiful golden tomb of sorts. There’s no turning back now. Never again will they be caterpillars.

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.”[5]

The chrysalis formation is mysterious. “How do they know how to do that?” the children ask. There’s no explanation, other than that God made them to do that!

I pin the little golden pea-pod shaped cases to some netting that I fasten atop the glass tank. They hang silently in rows, glistening slightly. I ask the children to imagine what is happening inside, but from the outside it’s hard to tell that anything is going on in there at all.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”[6]

One caterpillar doesn’t form a chrysalis. It just keeps eating. Eventually, it stops moving, but nothing seems to be happening in there.

“Is it dead?” the children ask.

“Maybe,” I reply.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”[7]

A few days of waiting, and then one morning a new creature inhabits the tank! It flaps it’s wings and sports fancy antenna, a long skinny curly tongue, and delicate legs.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[8]

We watch the others emerge, one by one. They burst forth from the chrysalises, and hang upside down for a time, pumping meconium through their wings. They are undeniably beautiful.

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”[9]

We make them a little garden in the tank with some natural objects (or as one student commented, “You made them a jungle gym!) We give them flowers and fruit. The children are delighted as they watch the insects flutter about, taste the sweet food, and climb over the flowers.

On Monday, we will walk the tank to the park and release them into the wild. They will not live long. The hope is that they will go and lay their eggs before their short lives come to an end.

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”[10]

[1] Job 25:6

[2] Isa. 41:14

[3] 1 Pet. 2:2-3

[4] Eph. 6:13

[5] 1 Cor. 15:36

[6] John 11:39-40

[7] John 12:24-25

[8] 2 Cor. 5:17

[9] 1 Cor. 15:42-44

[10] 2 Cor. 4:11-12, 16-18

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