While I was on leave, I started noticing butterflies on my walks. Finding yellow butterflies was my favorite, for they were so rare, beautiful and somehow sacred. Unfortunately I only got to see them from afar. My secret longing was to see one up close, to touch it or to have it land on my finger. A strange inclination as I’m not one who likes to touch insects.
One day as I was coming up the driveway from my morning walk, I saw something fluttering over a bush with yellow flowers. Could it be? Was it possible? As I walked up, sure enough, it was a yellow butterfly, like a gift from God, and answering a desire I couldn’t utter aloud.
As I got closer, the butterfly fluttered and encircled me several times. Okay, just so you know, that experience was the closest I’ve ever had in feeling like a Disney princess having an enchanting moment with fairy creatures.
But in the next moment, not so much.
The butterfly flew down into the thicket. Out of nowhere, a lizard showed up and, instantly, caught the butterfly by its wing. This can’t be happening. This was my butterfly—my gift from God. I watched helplessly as this butterfly struggled to get away. With no idea what to do, I kicked the bush to startle the lizard. It darted, and when it came around again, my butterfly was gone. And the lizard was chewing.
I searched, panicky that the lizard had swallowed my butterfly whole. But on the ground behind the bush, I saw it again, its wings fluttering weakly, sporadically. Afraid that it was going to be eaten by the lizard I moved it to another place, remembering my silly desire to touch the butterfly. Now I didn’t want to touch it at all.
This butterfly had to live. It had to stay alive, for suddenly it symbolized something more than a butterfly. I left for a while, and when I came back, the butterfly was gone. Maybe it just needed to rest and now it had flown away and was gracing its presence somewhere else. But inside, I wasn’t so sure. I checked again.
To my dismay, I found it several inches away from where it was before. But now it was dead, and a colony of ants surrounded it.
Did this experience have any meaning? If there was, what kind of strange message was God trying to send to me here? My mother said something that struck me. “That little butterfly had no business being down in the thicket when it had the ability to fly and see everything from above.”
Do we have insights that can help us trust life? Have we had experiences that speak of life’s goodness? Have we chosen to ignore those things that could help us soar? And have we chosen to come down and get caught in the thicket—get caught in the negative emotions, and get caught in the circumstances that look nothing like our most cherished dreams?
After my butterfly died, it rained constantly for several days. I didn’t see any butterflies and to be honest, I didn’t want to see another one either. I was fearful that this butterfly dying was symbolic of my dreams dying. A bit irrational, I know, but fears usually are, aren’t they?
After three days, I returned to my morning walks. For several laps, I didn’t see any butterflies. Toward the end of my walk, though, in the distance, I spotted a yellow butterfly fluttering in the sunlight. It was the first and only butterfly I saw that day and for several days after. It calmed my fears that my dreams hadn’t died, and this time, I was content with our distance.
So many layers of meaning to glean here, but essentially my beautiful, yellow butterfly dying felt like a warning. It didn’t die from being swallowed alive, it died from the struggle. And if we aren’t careful, if we allow our worries and our current situation in life to bring us down into the thicket, our dreams can literally die.
Now that I’m back from leave, I can understand why I personally needed that message. As I’ve had to move my inciting moment, I’m now facing the possibility of having to restructure and rewrite the entire story. This particular novel has been rewritten several times already. And I’m utterly exhausted, and I have nothing left to give, nothing left to pour out. As I fought sinking despair, thoughts came into my mind.
What if I didn’t believe that this was about me? What if I wasn’t giving anything away? Because it never came from me nor will it ever come from me. What if it was from a source outside of me?
In ancient days, people believed that talent and inspiration was a gift—something that originated outside of the artist. When humanism entered the stage, however, creativity began to be seen as something that originated from the artist alone. Maybe this is the reason why artists have gained the reputation of being tortured souls. The pressure feels too great—too much to ask for, especially from mere mortals.
So I would submit to you that the ancient belief is actually the correct one, and that this outside source—the source of all human achievement—is truly God.
I, for one, have decided that holding onto this knowledge is how I would soar above the thicket. If this is truly what He wants me to do, then somehow He would give me the strength and the inspiration to do it. And my only job now is to stay in a place where I’m ready to receive that inspiration.
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