Butterflies in the meadow.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my own thoughts shock me. They show up unexpectedly, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis in the dead of winter, flying clumsily across the meadow of my mind as though it were a warm, summer day. Hey, butterfly—you’re drunk. Go home.

At the risk of sounding slightly sadistic, for years when these unwanted butterflies would flit into my periphery, I would quickly smash them with the closest slipper and move on, leaving a cloud of butterfly death dust billowing behind me. I never stopped to think about why the butterflies were there—I just knew they didn’t belong. Butterfly > Smash > Resume. Repeat as necessary.

In one of my seminary classes, I am learning more and more about the concept of acceptance, especially in light of my understanding of God. The more I learn, the more I realize how beautiful true acceptance is. As I read passages of scripture, I recognize that acceptance is at the core of God’s nature. It’s absolutely beautiful.

As part of this class, I’ve taken up the spiritual discipline of centering prayer. One of the primary tenets of this practice is an invitation to recognize that in God’s presence, you are completely accepted. As I discover more about God through this practice, I find I am also understanding myself more fully.

By receiving God’s acceptance, I am learning to be more accepting of God and myself—both the redeemed parts and the shadow parts of me. Maybe this is something you’ve pondered too—how to learn to live as a whole person.

If you’ll indulge my butterfly metaphor a little longer…as I learn more about the practice of acceptance, there is an invitation to shift my perspective about the presence of these butterflies. As unsavory or embarrassing thoughts cross my mind, thoughts a follower of Jesus should not be thinking (at least that’s what I was taught to believe), what if I learned to accept them?

I wonder if accepting them is the first step in being open to God’s transformation and healing—do you wonder this too? Instead of instinctively smashing the butterflies in disgust or shame, something I now understand to be an act of self-preservation and protection, I can choose to let the butterflies live in my meadow. Even in the winter.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t curious about them, so what if we grab a butterfly net instead of a slipper?

Grabbing a net allows us to catch our butterflies in order to examine them. It encourages curiosity and requires a fair bit of trust. Holding the butterfly as a captive instead of a casualty creates space for us to wonder: how did it get here, what is it doing here, and why does it like my meadow? It also invites us to trust ourselves and God as we inspect. Some butterflies are big and scary (like the one pictured above) and I really don’t want them in my meadow, but there they are.

I find that sometimes the presence of a butterfly is an indication that something is going on. We don’t have to label it good or bad, right or wrong, Christian or worldly. It’s just a butterfly—let’s embrace the posture of curiosity. We might find we were wrong about the butterfly, or we might find the butterfly cannot survive in our meadow. We won’t know unless we examine it.

I consider this examination God’s personal invitation for me to ask for wisdom and guidance. As I ask for God’s help, I must first recognize that God didn’t leave me because the butterfly was there. God accepts me and my butterflies. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to practice self-acceptance. If God can accept me as I am, I can learn to accept myself, trusting that as I continue to walk with God, transformation is available.

The funny thing is that I keep thinking that God will transform the butterflies into more appropriate insects like roly-polies. I am discovering it’s much more likely that God would rather transform the meadow of my mind to attract the right insects in the right season.

Do you have confused butterflies in your mind too, or is it just me?

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