Tag Archives: chrysalis

Stolen [The Grace of Waiting 3]




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


Waiting [The Grace of Waiting 2]




In our world ‘waiting’ seems to be a dirty word, resisted, despised, judged. We have an addiction to things being fast. But there’s a lot of waiting in nature: seeds waiting to germinate, mothers waiting during pregnancy, hibernating bears waiting for spring. There’s also a lot of waiting in the bible: Noah and his family waiting for the waters to subside, Sarah waiting for a child, Jacob waiting for Rebecca’s hand, Jonah waiting in the whale, Joseph waiting in prison, Israel waiting 40 years in the desert, Jesus waiting 30 years before he was released into public ministry, the apostles waiting for pentecost. It seems in nature, waiting is often a time of inner total transformation, while there seems to be outward inactivity. In the bible it seems that seasons of waiting for people were the times in which they most deeply encountered who God truly is and grew in their trust of him and in their characters because of that. So if God seems to use waiting powerfully in nature and in the stories of the bible, why do we despise it so much and resist it with all our might?

This is the second post based on Sue Monk Kidd’s book ‘When the heart waits’. You can read the first here. Monk Kidd encourages us that when we feel we are in a season of uncertainty, where things are unresolved and even painful, instead of rushing to fix it, we often need to sit with the unresolved in stillness and wait. Not a passive waiting, but an attentive waiting, seeking to cooperate with what God is doing in the time of waiting. ‘The hidden potential and fullness of life is within me. My part is to wait in creative and expectant ways for it to unfold, attentive to the process.’ God invites us in the Psalms to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Ps 46:10)

Graham Cooke talks about desert times, times when we feel weak and dependent on God. He says most people rush to get out of those ‘desert’ times but that can rob us of the opportunity to know God more deeply, trust him more and robs God of the opportunity to come through for us. In Hosea, God says to his people, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her… I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will know the Lord… they will say “You are my God.”‘ (Hosea 2:14, 20, 23). If we stay close to God through those times they can be times of inner transformation and growth in our faith and character.

It seems that without significant times to be still, we “extinguish the possibility of growth and walk backwards”.* It’s a paradox that we find hard to grasp, that we achieve our deepest progress standing still.

Sue Monk Kidd recounts a story that illustrates this point, a story of two caterpillars that I mentioned in the last post. Stripe and Yellow were caterpillars who, before spinning their cocoons, spent all their time climbing up a great column of squirming, pushing caterpillars. ‘The point seemed to be to reach the top. No one knew what was up there. They only hoped that the summit would offer them what they were looking for in life. But their existence was pretty frantic, with lots of rushing and straining. It boiled down to climb or be climbed. Finally disenchanted with crawling up, Stripe and Yellow became still. Soon they were at the bottom of the pile, free to spin the cocoons that would give them wings. To their delight, they found that wings were the only way to get to the top. Thus Stripe and Yellow made their deepest progress standing still.’ Her personal experience was that ‘being still and waiting in one place – going not forward by inward – is the sort of progress that really counts, the sort that gives us wings.’

I was told recently that before a caterpillar spins a chrysalis it sheds its skin and is vulnerable, before the hard shell forms around it. Sometimes going into a season of waiting can feel very vulnerable. We may experience criticism from people who want us to rush to fix the situation. We may be led into a season of waiting by pain or a crisis, by a stripping or loss of something that we depended on for meaning, purpose or significance. Although I strongly believe God does not bring pain or hardship to teach us things (that comes as a part of the broken world we are in, the evil that is present and people’s free choices that can be hurtful) he certainly can and does use ‘stormy’ times to invite us into transformation.

Monk Kidd suggests we can respond to crisis in three ways. We can say it’s God’s will and force ourselves into an outward acceptance, remaining unaffected on a deeper spirit level. Sometimes however there can be deep gnawing doubts about the character of God that we dare not articulate but can push us away from God. People who respond like this are generally after peace of mind and comfort, at least outwardly. Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith. People who respond like that may be after justice. However, there is a third way to respond to crisis, which is the way of waiting. That means creating a painfully honest and contemplative connection with the deepest parts of ourselves and with God in the deep centre of our soul. People who choose this way are after wholeness and transformation. This is the way to find the ‘creative moment of epiphany within the crisis. You discover that the stormy experience can be an agent drawing you deeper into the kingdom, separating you from the old consciousness and the clamp of the ego.’ It’s not an easy way but it can lead to genuine transformation. It is the way to ‘come home’, returning to one’s deepest self, the soul, the original imprint of God within. Home to a deep sense of spiritual belonging.

Last year I certainly hit a painful time of uncertainty, where what gave me security and significance seemed to be stripped from me. I felt very weak and vulnerable, in a desert time if you wish. This book, the wisdom of friends and the presence of God with me on the journey enabled me to be patient with myself in the process, engage with my emotions and trust God that it wouldn’t last forever and that he was bringing transformation and growth through it, even if I didn’t see it at the time. But I can certainly see it looking back now.

Monk Kidd asks us, “How do we create the threads that hold us in the painful, uncertain, solitary darkness of waiting – and hold us not only in the waiting but through the waiting?” The next blog post will look at some of the ways she suggests we can wait in a constructive and attentive way.

*Counselor Helen Luke, quoted by Sue Monk Kidd

Growing [The Grace of Waiting 1]




“I am caterpillar. The leaves I eat taste bitter. But dimly I sense a great change coming. What I offer you humans is my willingness to dissolve and transform. I do that without knowing what the end-result will be.” – Joanna Macy, John Seed, Pat Flemming, Arne Moss.

Each month for the next few months I will be sharing some thoughts from a wonderful book I’ve been reading called ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m accompanying this with some photos of caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies I took in my Cape Town garden last year. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Deep within us there is a longing to grow and become a new creature

but we possess an equally strong compulsion to remain the same.

We waver unpredictably between clinging and letting go.

Apparently, as surprising as it sounds,

some caterpillars resist the process of spinning a chrysalis,

clinging to their larval life longer than their peers.

They put off surrender to the cocoon until the following spring,

postponing their transformation a year or more.

This clinging state of being is called ‘diapause’.

We can all live in diapause in our journey of transformation

when we cling on to the self we know.

Even a broken and false self seems safer than an unknown transformed one.

“We fear it is all we have. Even its sufferings are familiar and we clutch them because their very familiarity is comforting… yet so long as we aim at the maintenance of this present self, as we now conceive it, we cannot enter the larger selfhood which is pressing for life.” – Daniel Day Williams

The word ‘clinging’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘clingan’, which means ‘shrink’. As we cling to the way it’s been, it creates a shrinking within the soul. A shrinking of possibility and growth.

Thomas Merton writes about two levels of the process of ‘letting go’, or surrendering fully to God. The first is an active work, letting go of the things we recognise that we depend on more than God: our ability to succeed; our ability to keep other people happy; our attempts to live a significant life in our own efforts. Releasing all we have clung to for meaning, success, security and validation. Releasing not only the images we have of ourselves but the ones others have of us too. We pray, we turn loose. And maybe this is where some of us stop.

The second level, he suggests, is needed to tackle deeper, more unconscious patterns. At that stage we need to trust the initiative into the hands of God, allowing God to work directly on our more ingrained attachments we have to our old ways of being. Allowing God to release us through experiences, encounters and events that come to us, and being attentive to his work in us. We are called then to let go even of our frantic attempts to let go, giving up our self efforts and allowing God to draw us forward.

“It takes courage to let go and yield yourself to the changes that take place in the chrysalis. It takes courage to become who you are. But the opposite of courage isn’t only fear but security. Security can be a denial of life. Total security eliminates all risk. And where there’s no risk, there’s no becoming; and where there’s no becoming, there’s no real life. The real spiritual sojourners- the ones who touch the edges of life as well as the centre – are the people who risk, who let go.” Sue Monk Kidd follows this by reminding us that Jesus told his would be disciples to sell all they had and follow him. If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it, he said. We have to risk everything in order to gain everything.

I will wind up this post by recounting a childrens story Sue Monk Kidd mentions about Yellow the caterpillar.

Yellow came upon a gray-haired caterpillar who told her about becoming a butterfly. “But how do you become one?” she asked.

“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,” he said.

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow.

“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live.”


Monk Kidd shares with us a prayer from her own heart in a season of change.

“To be fully human, fully myself

To accept all that I am, all that you envision,

This is my prayer.

Walk with me out to the rim of my life,

Beyond security.

Take me to the exquisite edge of courage

And release me to become.”


So I wonder, whether like the caterpillar you are sensing a change coming, longing for growth and to become a new creature, to become more truly yourself. Instead of shrinking back or clinging on, dare we step out from the security of known ways of being, into the risk of who we could become? Do we have the courage to let go, to surrender to the cocoon and the transformation without fully knowing yet what the end result will be? Because maybe it’s only as we release all that we’ve depended on for security and validation, and trust ourselves to God, attentive to his work in us, that what we look like may die and what’s really us will live.

This post is based on Chapter 5 ‘Letting go’, in the book ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd and some parts are directly quoted from there. I highly recommend the book for seasons of change and waiting in our lives. It has been an invaluable companion for me through hard times over the past 18 months.