Lessons From the Life of a Caterpillar
Watching a caterpillar reach the finish line is an exercise in patience of the highest order. Caterpillars are extremely slow - in fact, they are so slow in their movement that there are hardly any changes with other parts of their bodies when they stop! Compared to other insects in the same weight/size category, they can only reach 10% of their fellow insect’s maximum speeds. Yet, at some point in its future, the caterpillar will transform into a butterfly, becoming what many call “nature’s Olympians,” with the fastest reflexes around and able to travel faster than a race-horse charging at its top speeds towards victory. How can this be?! Simply put, it is through a journey of transformation, perhaps unlike any other. Yet, its change process can powerfully speak to and inform the journey we all take as humans in this trek we call life.
As I reflect on the transformation process of a caterpillar to a butterfly, these are the lessons that I am learning:
Imagine or Bust
Central to this whole transition in the caterpillar are cell structures called, Imaginal Discs. These discs typically remain dormant, inactive, and suppressed until activated when a caterpillar begins the journey into the cocoon or chrysalis phase. And when activated, they create the parts of a butterfly that are not in existence (i.e., wings and eyes). The applied lesson for us is that if we want to experience transformation in our lives and churches, we need to ignite imagination (our “imaginal discs”) - envisioning a different future from our present reality through child-like curiosity, dreaming, and creativity. As Einstein put it, “imagination is everything. It is the preview of coming attractions. It is more important than knowledge.”
Dying to Become
The imaginal discs in a caterpillar are activated through a process where it begins to digest itself. In preparation for its transformative journey, a caterpillar eats and eats and continues to eat lots of foliage. Once it gets nice and plumpy, it begins the cocooning process, and when this begins, the caterpillar starts to consume (digest/die to) its current reality! This process activates the imaginal discs that bring about the necessary transformation. When these discs are activated, they are viewed as threats to the caterpillar, and attempts are made to annihilate the threat. Fortunately, the imaginal discs prevail, and a butterfly does ultimately emerge. Often the key to transformation is welcoming change, not resisting it - and to embrace the change process, we must die to the things that impede imagination and new beginnings. And the dying journey is not enjoyable at all - it is incredibly lonely, dark, and painful, yet this is necessary for unimaginable beauty to come forth. Maya Angelou says it well: “we delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
Seeing with Eyes of Hope
R. Buckminster Fuller states, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” Perhaps you are wondering, is this as good as it will get? Will anything change or be different in the season ahead? And we often answer these questions based on the information and experiences we currently have, that is, on what we now know. There may be no indicators in your life or ministry that change will happen, but perhaps that may be the indication that it will happen. As Dodinsky put it, “a great beginning is sometimes at the point of what you thought would be the end of everything.”
I hope you find wisdom, insights, and encouragement in these lessons. If the team at Chemistry Staffing can help you imagine a healthier staff, strategy, or structure - especially in these challenging times, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me - we love the local church and would be glad to serve you! We long for every church to rise and take flight into her God-given future!
To connect with Allan about finding a long-term healthy fit or to talk about church health, schedule a conversation.