Friday, February 6, 2009

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

In the fall that I was a student teacher in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a kindergartner carefully brought a monarch chrysalis to school. He had found it attached to a milkweed plant in a field by one of the seaside marshes that dotted the coastline. His teacher put it into an aquarium, and over the next few days, the class excitedly observed the changes that were visible within the semi-opaque cocoon. All eyes were on the chrysalis as time moved on, waiting for the special moment when a beautiful butterfly emerged from its cocoon.

One Monday morning, as we all converged on the coffee machine, the kindergarten teacher shook her head in disgust. "It hatched over the weekend," she sighed. "The kids are going to be so disappointed."

While in this case a bit uncooperative, the life cycle of the monarch butterfly is a science lesson most elementary school teachers have taught sometime in their career. The insect begins as an egg, laid on a milkweed plant, which hatches into the larva stage (what we call a caterpillar). This little guy goes on an eating rampage, chewing through every milkweed leaf he can find. After a few weeks of this, he forms a cocoon around himself, a bright green hard shell dotted with markings that look like pure gold. This chrysalis hangs from a milkweed for several days while astounding changes occur within its walls. Finally, the metamorphosis is complete, and a beautiful Monarch butterfly emerges.

Paul uses that same word, metamorphosis, to portray what is happening to us as believers. He describes this ongoing process in Romans 12:2. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . ."

Paul puts the idea of transformation in contrast to the idea of conformity. The world claims to offer individuality, touting its value for the independence and rights of the individual. But in reality, following the world is a walk away from freedom. Trying to remain conformed to the world after becoming a child of God is like putting clean, fresh water into a dirty, contaminated container. Instead, Paul urges, leave the world behind. Something miraculous and astounding has happened to you. You are a new creation. Don't go back to your old habits and ways of thinking. It doesn't make sense in light of your new identity.

Paul then offers an alternative. Be transformed. The verb is in the present, passive tense. It would be more accurately translated keep on being transformed. It is God who is doing the transformation within us. This is an ongoing, continual, and lifelong process. The Greek metamorphosis conveys the idea of a radical reversal in our thinking, our values, and in our methods in expressing these things.

Transformation can require a complete destruction of what was in order to build what will now be. A home on our street, owned by a reclusive old lady, was showing serious signs of neglect and ruin when we first moved into our home a few doors down. Raccoons had invaded the attic and for many years had made themselves at home. The construction company that eventually bought the home told us the wild animals had nested there, chewing electrical wiring and staining the interior walls of the upstairs floor with their urine and feces. In order to make the home habitable again, the builders completely gutted the home. The whole house's interior was stripped down to studs. Only then could it be rebuilt into a beautiful new home, with new wiring, drywall, and flooring.

Sometimes our transformation involves demolition in our lives as well. This can be a painful process. But it is a necessity to make room for the ultimately superior new. Where sin once dwelt will eventually be inhabited by godliness. Foolishness will be blasted away to make room for wisdom. A life made helpless by out of control desires will be transformed to allow the peaceful control of the Spirit. The process may not always be pleasant, but the outcome outshines any temporary discomfort that may be necessary.

In contrast to the conformity demanded by the world, this transformation takes place within the parameters of the individual person God created us to be. He carefully crafted us with specific gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. Following Christ does not require becoming a "Stepford" Christian. The opposite is actually true. The verses immediately after Romans 12:2 are focused on the individuality of the church body's members in terms of exercising the spiritual gifts we were given. Metamorphosis is not the process of being squeezed into a mold. Rather, transformation only makes us a new and improved version of what we were when He saved us.

Each of the stages in a monarch butterfly's life is a movement toward the final mature phase. God has the same purpose in our transformation. He is interested in making us "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:4). Out with the old. In with the new. It is a process which may at times be distressing. Yet the final results are worth it all.


Zoe said...

I love this post. "Out with the old and in with the new" is a great reminder I should use each day as I strive toward walking in HIS likeness.
Joyful blessings sweet friend

JottinMama said...

Hi Julie! I saw your comment on Zoe's blog and just wanted to pop over and say that I loved this line from your comment:

"He holds the future very capably in His hands"

Sometimes that is so hard for me to digest. But it's so true. He is totally capable. Thanks for the reminder!

Kate :)

Van said...

Transformation can require a complete destruction of what was in order to build what will now be. I agree and believe this to be true. After all it is our hope that something good would come from those hard times where we are being torn down so something new and beautiful can rise up.