by BJ Rathburn
I don’t know about you, but I love God’s creatures, especially those in the animal kingdom. I like to look for spiritual analogies and Scriptural truths illustrated in the creature before me and how God made it. As I’ve reflected on what I might share with you, I remember a certain encounter with one of God’s small creatures and two important lessons it taught me. I share them here in hopes it will encourage you in some way.
It was late in the afternoon on a late Spring day. I had been walking through some hard things for a while that would eventually result in marital separation. In the moment, things seemed to be piling up on me. Can you relate? The Psalmist knew this well when he cried out to the Lord in Ps. 25:17, “The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.” Well, the troubles of my heart were most certainly enlarged that day. Something had happened and I didn’t have anyone to share it with but the Lord. I was overwhelmed, confused, frightened, anxious, hurt, angry, lonely, and had no earthly idea of what to do. I walked the short walk to a little clearing at a nearby trailhead, sheltered from public view, with an arbor and some benches on the edge of a scrubby mesquite forest. No sooner did I sit down when the tears just flooded out.
I was trying to mentally articulate a prayer of some kind to ask God for help with the turmoil in my heart when through my tears I saw something move at my feet. Scorpions, tarantulas, colonies of fire ants, and other nasty things inhabited my neck of the woods in Dallas, so the first thing I did was instinctively yank my feet up onto the bench. But when I looked more carefully, I saw a beautiful butterfly, (probably a Cassius Blue), blending in perfectly with the background beneath me. It appeared to be sunning itself, but periodically closed its wings so I got a good view of its defense mechanism patterning. For a fleeting moment, the beauty of the winged thing at my feet displaced my self-pity.
Lesson One: When You Need God to Change the Course of History, He did.
My initial reaction of gratitude (that the creature at my feet was not venomous) quickly morphed into a spirit that questioned the Lord. “Lord! I wish you would come down and straighten this out! I wish you would come down and make your presence known! I wish you would come down and interrupt all this and fix it forever! I wish you would come down and show me what to do! I want to be able to see You as clearly as the butterfly at my feet. I wish You would do something! Anything!”
The Lord used the tenor of my impetuous grumbling to take me to Isiah 64-65, which opens, “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down…” And no sooner did I read that, when I knew God was using His Word to tell me that He did. He did rend the Heavens and the curtain to the Holy of Holies, too! He did come down. He sent His Son into the world to live an obscure life full of hardship, to suffer at the hands of the persecutors He came to save, and to die that I, among many, could receive forgiveness for my sins and an eternity in Heaven free of all the pain and sorrow and death that sin delivers on earth. In my selfishness, I had been whining to God that my momentary troubles were bigger than His solution. But I was wrong. And in my selfishness, I didn’t really want this reminder at first. It seemed that God was minimizing my pain with the “good” news. But God chastened me and then encouraged me that when His incarnate Son came down, His solution to sin and sin sickness, His solution to brokenness, His solution to pain – was a once-and-forever, bigger than all evil solution that couldn’t be revoked, overturned, repealed, undone, or even diminished. It didn’t minimize evil or heartache (though I have sometimes blown things out of proportion). Rather, Jesus on the cross and Jesus in His glory simply dwarfs the most monumental suffering.
I don’t know about you, but as a woman, I sometimes unwittingly use my emotions as an excuse to ignore truth. I give myself an emotional hardship pass as though getting out of sound doctrine were the same as a “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly. But this path only exacerbates the problems underlying raw and unruly emotions. When I follow God’s way of dealing with the underlying problems, I am on the path to peace and healing even when the trouble doesn’t go away – even when the trouble gets worse for a while. And so it was that day.
Lesson Two: Most vulnerable with God is safest.
As God gently but firmly corrected my upside-down theology, I was free to see a second lesson in the butterfly. When its wings were up, it could launch into flight a fraction of a second faster. And the “eyes” on the underside of its wings, meant to scare off or confuse predators, were in plain view. So when its wings were up, its guard was up. Its defenses were at the ready. But where it rested at my feet, it was better camouflaged with its wings down, sunning itself. In that setting, at that time, being more vulnerable offered it more protection.
When I saw that, I marveled, and the Lord reminded me that “…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). So here’s my second confession: I know God wants me to guard my heart. But sometimes I use the language of biblically guarding my heart to cover up a selfish desire to protect my heart from pain. I can quickly erect an invisible shrine to all things that help me avoid pain, sprinkle some Bible verses on it and tell myself I’m doing well, when all I’m really doing is trying to save my life my way, apart from Christ, and losing it in the process. When I let God protect me from pain, I’m not passively subjecting myself to evil or going around hunting for pain by any means! But I’m able to follow Jesus into difficult, even painful situations and simultaneously experience joy, freedom, and peace because I’m following Him and He is protecting me. God used the butterfly that day to show me that my heart only wanted to follow God if He led me out of trouble, away from pain, towards momentary happiness. And that in the process, I was forfeiting the blessings of following Him where He leads, experiencing the peace that surpasses all understanding, and watching Him provide protection for me in ways that added no sorrow.
I pray that if you’re going through something hard right now, God will gently but inescapably show you that when you need Him to change the course of your life, He did. And when you most need protection, resting at His feet in vulnerable submission to and humble dependence on Him is the safest place you can ever be.