Lessons from a dead butterfly

Something went wrong. 

We have had several cocoons in our butterfly habitat over the last couple of years. We start with caterpillars who ate, grew, and then built their cocoons as they moved toward their metamorphosis into Painted Lady butterflies. Most of the caterpillars did just what they were supposed to do, creating cocoons hanging on a piece of paper, which we then hung on the wall of the habitat. One cocoon fell, and rather than disturb it, we decided to leave it where it lay.

Most of the butterflies, emerging from still-hanging cocoons, stretched their wings, permitting the blood to flow so that they could eventually fly from the habitat when we released them. But when the “fallen” butterfly emerged from his (her?) cocoon, it didn’t act right; it had one wing that was deformed. Instead of flying like the other butterflies, he flapped frantically around the floor of the habitat, unable to take flight. Eventually he died, even after we put sugar water low enough for him to get it.

This got me wondering about what happened, so I have been researching cocoons and the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, and I’ve learned some lessons about home, family, and parenting.

The cocoon’s purposes

First, the cocoon is a protective covering that permits the caterpillar to mature from its immature state to its mature state; within its walls, it can grow the way God designed it to grow. The caterpillar’s stem cells have all the information it needs to develop into a butterfly, but without the cocoon, the metamorphosis won’t take place. The caterpillar would simply stay immature, and would not fulfill its butterfly-destiny.

Second, the cocoon is a shelter that protects, in this most vulnerable time of its life, the caterpillar from external dangers, such as the predators that want to devour the caterpillar before it has a chance to grow into the mature butterfly God created it to be.

When it goes wrong

I learned that sometimes, the cocoon-metamorphosis process doesn’t work the way it’s designed to. Sometimes a semi-formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon too early. When this happens, its wings are often not fully developed, leaving the immature butterfly vulnerable to predators in the environment, and unable to fly, which is what it is designed to do.

Sometimes the cocoon gets damaged. When this happens several outcomes are possible. Sometimes the caterpillar dies in the cocoon. Sometimes an apparently-mature butterfly will emerge, but will be unable to fly due to unformed or deformed wings. Interestingly, there is evidence that some caterpillars contract their bodies when the cocoon is damaged, protecting themselves from the worst effects of the damage; these caterpillars can emerge from the cocoon fully formed and mature, in spite of the difficult and rocky metamorphosis process.

Lessons in Parenting

Now, re-read the last two sections, replacing ‘cocoon’ with ‘home,’ ‘caterpillar’ with ‘child,’ and ‘butterfly’ with ‘young adult.’

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

God designed your home, and put you and your children together for a specific set of purposes. Our homes are designed by Him to be a protective shelter from the world and its predators, and to be a safe environment in which we are engaged in the process of metamorphosing our children from immaturity into the mature Christian adults God created them to be (Deut 6; Eph 6:1-4).

If we release them too early, they simply will not have the understanding, wisdom, and godly character needed to walk in the world. Keep them in too long, and their development will be stifled and they will not learn to exercise their faith on their own.

Importantly, we are not alone in this process. The New Testament concept of transformation mainly involves two Greek words. When the word metaschēmatizō is used (Cor 3:18; Phil 3:17-21; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 1 Cor 4:6), it generally implies a transient state, moving from a starting point and headed toward some other point, but the emphasis is on the starting point. When the word metamorphoō is used (Matt 17:2; Mark 9:2;Rom 12:1-2), the emphasis is on movement toward the final end state, with the emphasis on what the transformed person will eventually be like, or on what they have become.

With both parts of the transformation, scripture usually implies that there is some external force actually doing the transformation. So it is with the process of parenting. In the same way that the Lord and the Holy Spirit transform us, we partner with Him in the transformation of our children, equipping them with the faith-tools they need to survive attacks from spiritual predators who would steal their faith from them.

Too many parents simply let others make critical decisions for them when it comes to raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But remember that Hebrews 13:17 gives an important instruction and warning to us: “Obey your leaders and be under their authority. They are watching you because they are responsible for your souls” (ICB). The implied instruction for children is to obey their parents, but parents: look at your role. You are responsible for their souls. This means the cocoon you build has eternal consequences for those you are responsible for raising.

Christian parents: Seek the Lord’s will for you and for your family. Ask Him to reveal to you opportunities for faith-strengthening conversations with your children. Ask Him for wisdom to deal with the challenges they face. Ask the Lord when HE wants you to begin releasing them from your cocoon. (Seriously: ask Him whether your 3, 4, 5, or 6 year old is old enough or mature enough to release to the world!) Ask Him when HE has grown their faith sufficiently to deal with some of the challenges the world gives them.

And no matter what, continue to disciple them with the plan and content HE gives you.

Discipleship 101: God’s Commands and Promises

For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice. Genesis 18:19
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction / And do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

The Bible repeatedly tells us in both the Old and New Testament that the family household is the primary location for discipling our children. 

What is discipleship?
By discipleship, the Bible refers to the process of making disciples, which is related to the word discipline. In New Testament times, adisciple was a learner or scholar, who adhered to the teachings of their master. In this case, discipline doesn’t refer merely to punishment, but to training.
The biblical principle that discipleship is a parent’s responsibility – especially fathers – is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Deuteronomy 6 is a core text instructing parents on the purpose and process of training children in the Lord.

Moses has been told that he will not be entering the Promised Land (Num 20:7), and God commands him to remind the Israelites about God’s deliverance and promises (covenants) to them, and to give instructions for life. In the big picture, this passage gives a command, its purpose, and some specific and practical instructions to fathers especially, and all parents and grandparents by implication, about training children in the Lord’s ways. In future posts, I will write about those practical instructions, but for now I am going to look at the big picture of this teaching from Moses preparing the first generation of Israel to occupy the Promised Land.

1“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3“O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (NASB)

What is the nature, purpose, and instruction of this teaching? [vv.1-3]
1.It is a commandment.
This is the commandment of the LORD [v.1]. That means this whole passage is a single command with lots of application. That it is a command means it isn’t optional for the faithful parent. As with all of the Lord’s commands, we ignore them at our own peril; that we can be forgiven for our failures (thanks to Christ’s substitutionary death for us) does not mean we will avoid the consequences of our sins.

2.What is the command and its purpose?
To see God’s intended purposes for giving the command, we look at the clues in the text; in this instance, we see the word “that” repeated several times. This is a point of clarity for us.

  • v. 1 “that you might do them”
  • v. 2 “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God
  • that your days may be prolonged”
  • v. 3 “that is may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly”

In the style of ancient covenants, expected behaviors are followed by promises for complying with the terms of the covenant. The expected behavior is to “do them” (ie, follow the statutes and commandments of the Lord) and “fear the LORD” (ie, reverence Him for His holiness and just nature).
The instruction is to do “the commandments, statutes, and judgments” passed on from God through Moses; to “keep all His statutes and His commandments…all the days of your life;” and “be careful to do it.” Thus, the instruction is clearly stated: it communicates clearly the LORD’s expectations for behavior, so that the covenant’s promises can be kept.
Three promises are made, contingent upon the Israelites’ obedience: (1) their “days would be prolonged;” (2) “it may be well with you;” and (3) “you may multiple greatly.” The connection between the Israelites compliance and their reward is unmistakable, as are the implied consequences of disobeying the commands and statutes: their days would not be prolonged, it would not be well with them, and they will not multiply greatly.

3.The instruction is multigenerational.
Verse 2 states that the expectation for obedience is not about the present generation, but is for the next two generations (“you and your son and your grandson”). This is an important point about discipling your children in the Lord—there are multi-generational consequences. Think about it this way. When you disciple your own children, you are training your grandchildren’s parents; if that’s hard to grasp, the passage also reveals this: You are training your great-grandchildren’s grandparents (“your grandson”).

Application to us
The commandments of the Lord are hard to ignore, wherever they occur in scripture, so let’s apply them to where we are today.
First, the expected behavior is the same today as it was then. We are given instructions, commands and statutes, and we’re supposed to conform our lives to them. A helpful way of thinking about the law as Christians rather than ancient Israelites is to remember that we are redeemed for a purpose—we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10); because he has delivered and redeemed us, our grateful response is striving to live lives pleasing to him in the imitation of Christ. We don’t earn our salvation this way; rather, we make changes to our lives out of love and gratitude.
Second, the promises still hold. We are promised blessings when our behaviors match the Lord’s expectations. Does this mean we will live a long time in The Holy Land? Of course not, but our lives will be prolonged, and we and our descendants will be better off, by and large, by conforming our lives to the instructions and commands of God.
Third, in the US we have a hard time grasping the passage’s multigenerational concept because we are, frankly, pretty self-centered. We think primarily about our own comfort and convenience and temporary happiness, rather than thinking through the consequences of our actions for future generations. But God promises that following His commands will prolong your (and your descendants’) lives, and you will live well. There is no guarantee of what future generations will do, of course, and each generation in Israel had to choose whether to obey the commands.

So it is with us—we make choices that have consequences, even though there is God’s promise, but each generation has to make its own choices, and each can break the cycle of promise. BUT, each generation can choose to re-start the cycle of promise as blessing as well. We also can’t simply blame our parents for their bad choices and their effects on us, we have to choose to claim the promises for our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s generations; how do we claim the promises? By living lives in conformity to God’s principles, rather than the flawed and deceptive philosophies of this world (Col 2:8; Rom 12:2). Choosing to disciple our children biblically is one place to start.