One day, as I glanced at the many cocoons attached to the wall in my garden, waiting for butterflies to emerge, I observed a fascinating phenomenon that made me look closer and got me thinking. A scary looking big flying ant, with bulging orange back legs was crawling over one of the cocoons and the cocoon, far from being a dead hollow coffin that I expected, was like a person in a sleeping bag, thrashing and wiggling aggressively to get the ant off. I was so intrigued. Did the creature inside, mid transformation between a caterpillar and a butterfly (a butterpillar maybe?!), know instinctively that this flying ant was dangerous to it in some way and knew it needed to be resisted? Eventually the butterpillar won and the flying ant flew away, its evil intent, whatever that was, frustrated for now, the cocoon returning to its normal still state.
Days later I returned to the wall of transformation in my garden to inspect progress and saw with excitement lots of empty cocoons on the wall. But as I looked closer I saw that they weren’t all the same. There were many flimsy white and black ones where the cocoon had been split open completely, along the natural lines of the structure, as a butterfly had fought free. But there were some burnt orange ones which on even closer inspection revealed a small round hole near the base of each cocoon. A sinister looking hole, clearly not made by an exiting butterfly. I tried to research it but didn’t come up with much (if you can solve the mystery do let me know). I don’t fully know what happens biologically to result in the butterpillar’s transformation process being interrupted, aborted, stolen. Maybe the flying ant, or something else, cuts a hole and eats what’s inside, or inserts eggs inside and the eggs grow into something that steals what’s inside before cutting a hole to escape. I’m not sure of the details but I feel sure that whatever it is that’s happened, those orangey cocoons with the little circular holes are not how it’s supposed to be, that something precious has been stolen and the transformation intended has not been completed.
This may seem a gruesome analogy, and it’s not in Sue Monk Kidd’s book but the physical phenomenon I saw was so striking that it got me thinking about our own transformation processes in waiting. It made me think, sometimes our waiting process is interrupted, aborted or stolen and the fullness of transformation is not gained.
Maybe our waiting season is rushed and truncated by the judgments and criticism of our quick-o-holic and productivity obsessed society. You may be called selfish and lazy or self-indulgent. ‘What are you waiting for? Just do something!’ Maybe we feel the invitation to a truer, more whole self but maybe we suppress it, unwilling to engage with the painful process of allowing our false selves to be stripped away. Maybe we face a crisis and instead of letting it be an invitation to a deeper journey we move swiftly on, trying to put on a brave face.
I know that last year, in one of the hardest seasons of my life, probably a combination of grief and burn-out which I had to ‘wait out’, I distinctly remember saying to God, “I know you probably think this is somehow good for me but just for the record, I’m not enjoying it!” I was desperate to be ‘back to my old self’, desperate to be strong again. I wanted to by-pass the waiting, the deep work God was doing. But my wise friend reassured me that it wouldn’t last forever and kept encouraging me to ask how I could cooperate with what God seemed to be inviting me to, which was a greater dependence on Him. She also said that maybe the aim wouldn’t be to get back to my ‘old self’ and maybe coming out the other side I might not be able to be as ‘strong’ as I was before, but maybe that was part of the process of being more dependent on God and more aware of my weakness and vulnerability. She was right of course, but it was hard to receive at the time.
So sometimes we ourselves can abort our own waiting process, or allow others to pull us out of it. But sometimes it’s more than that. It’s clear to me that the enemy of our souls despises and resists transformation in us to become more like Christ. Not just because he’s evil but because he fears the fullness of who we’ll become. In the bible it talks about the enemy being like a prowling lion seeking to devour the life in us (1 Peter 5:8). In those seasons of waiting we may feel unable to resist attack, weakened by the process. But our waiting needs to be attentive and alert; peaceful yes, but not passive. We need to realise that He who is in us (Christ) is way more powerful than he who is in the world (the enemy and his schemes) (1 John 4:4). We don’t have to be afraid of anything the enemy throws at us, in God’s strength we can resist him.
Yes we need to engage with our emotions and process them in the presences of God, not rushing to fix the pain, but the enemy would love to pile a bunch of other heavy stuff on top of that like bitterness, self-pity and isolation. Whispering lies to us that we’ve been abandoned or are worthless, and lies about who God is and whether he’s really good. It’s those things we need to be alert to and resist, like the butterpillar in its sleeping bag wiggling aggressively to shake the flying ant off and to stop it boring a hole in its cocoon to steal the transformation potential.
For those of us who feel God’s invited us into a waiting season, we need to be alert to anything, inside ourselves or outside that might abort or steal the fullness of the transformation that is the fruition of the season. We need to intentionally protect the process so its work in us can be completed, in God’s timing, not our own.
© Hilary Murdoch. All rights reserved 2015