I like symbols. I enjoy how symbols can open my eyes to truth I had not yet perceived. I do try not to get carried away looking everywhere for symbols and hidden meanings and I especially am careful about looking for signs from God. 1 Corinthians 1:22 has always felt like a warning about looking for signs so I have sought to know God’s voice for myself, therefore rendering null and void any need for a sign. And yet, what about those times when God is there-I know it because His presence is always with me-and yet He is remaining silent? There are few things more frustrating in my spiritual journey than when God is remaining silent as it usually happens during a time when I need to hear from Him the most.
I mentioned before how a crisis some seventeen years was merely a catalyst for Jesus to reveal Himself to me in a different way and set my feet on a new path. Coming to know Him in greater intimacy has not happened all at once. It has been an awful painful wonderful glorious journey: one I’ve survived by relying on Him day by day. I recently realized I have seen aspects of His character He has been bringing me to see over the course of the last three years. I can look back now and see how it all worked together for me to KNOW what I know today but, at the time, the butterfly was just a butterfly.
It all started three years ago when my doctor found a lump in my breast. I hadn’t noticed it. It truly felt like it had appeared overnight. My doctor was concerned but not overly so. She thought it could be a result of an ongoing hormonal imbalance and I was to come back in a month and she’d see if it had changed size or gone away. I prayed every day of that month, asking He who is my Healer to take it away. I went back for my follow up visit knowing it hadn’t gone away and having no idea what was going to happen next. Painful and invasive exams were what happened next, culminating in a biopsy. I had to wait a few days for the results of my biopsy and, while there was an enormous chance my lump was benign, there was a chance it wasn’t. I couldn’t think, felt numb, and sought the peace I normally find in nature by taking a walk at the reservoir.
It was a beautiful, warm day but I felt I was carrying ice around in my very marrow. The what if was a whirl-a-gig inside my mind and, although I knew He was with me, He wasn’t making me any specific promises. I didn’t know what to pray for. He is my Healer-I believe that with everything I am-but I couldn’t deny He hadn’t healed me-the lump was proof of that- and I felt my foundation of faith was rather shaky beneath my feet.
I managed to make it to my favorite bench placed right by the water before I felt I couldn’t go any further. I sat there in the warm sunshine, listened to the insects in the long grass, the birds on the water, and just waited in His presence. Surely, alone in this place, He would speak comfort to me.
As I sat, a small yellow butterfly appeared, flitting from flowers to blades of grass. I have always thought butterflies symbols of spiritual truths: their beauty, the way the gland at the base of their skull consumes their caterpillar life and the butterfly emerges from that death (our death swallowed in His life!); they have so much to teach me about walking with God. Thus, I always enjoy seeing butterflies and have never had a moment where I did not feel closer to God when I saw one. I watched that tiny creature, so yellow it looked like sunshine come to life, and waited for a message from God. There was nothing.
I couldn’t help laughing at myself. Perhaps I was looking for too much. Were it a story I was writing, the butterfly would have been the harbinger of great peace and spiritual growth. Instead, it was nothing more than a creature doing what it was created to do. A pretty creature, certainly, but nothing more. The butterfly was just a butterfly. I was not living inside a book. I had no promise from God that I did not have cancer. I had no idea what I might be facing in the coming days. I still had to go home and wait for my test results. I rose from the bench and made my way home.
My results arrived and I did not have cancer. My relief was beyond my ability to describe. Still, the presence of the lump meant my hormone imbalance was more serious than I thought and I could potentially develop severe problems. I turned out I already had and I ended up having a major surgery only a year later. I had not developed cancer but though again I prayed, it was a surgery I was not spared.
And yet, there was never a moment when He was not with me. It wasn’t that I was not afraid nor in pain. It wasn’t that I lied to myself and assured myself there was no reason to be afraid. There was every reason and there were some I hadn’t even considered until I read through and signed my pre-surgery paperwork. Rather, there wasn’t a step I took He didn’t take with me. That fact was something I only truly realize now as I am having some painful complications from that surgery, am having difficulties getting treatment for those complications, and have no fear at all. Irritation at the roadblocks-Jesus does not make me superhuman-but He infuses me with His strength to look into the unknown without fear. How is such a thing possible? I don’t think it would be if I hadn’t had it cemented in me through experience that He keeps his promises and does not ever leave me nor forsake me. Whatever my next moments, days, and years hold, I know that I don’t face anything alone.
Oddly, that little yellow butterfly has never been far from my mind. I was so sure then it meant nothing and yet it has come to be important to me. Perhaps I don’t have to look for signs or symbols. Perhaps He gives them to me and then gives me recognition and understanding when the time is right. I do know I will never again see a butterfly as just a butterfly.