How Will You Measure Your Life? Lessons from a Butterfly

Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Does my life really matter?”  I know I have. For months I had read books, listened to podcasts, and searched diligently to better understand my life’s mission. I wanted to make a difference in the world and to live to my full potential. Yet here I was in complete isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic unable to leave my home except in an emergency. I felt discouraged, disoriented, and at a loss for any direction in my life. Then a small miracle happened in the form of a tiny butterfly.

Painted Lady Butterfly Metamorphosis - How Will You Measure Your Life

The Painted Lady Butterfly experiment

Our family decided to raise butterflies during our time of self isolation.  When the caterpillars arrived, they were tiny, black, moving pieces of fur.  I had raised butterflies before with my older kids, and it was so much fun, however, these caterpillars seemed small and unimpressive.  I  guess it was a different kind of butterfly from what we had raised in the past.  As the days passed on, we watched as the caterpillars continued to eat.  I was amazed at how quickly they grew!  Soon the caterpillars were large, fat, and ready to change.

When it became time for them to turn into a chrysalis, several things happened.  One caterpillar quickly went to the top of the plastic jar, secured itself with some sort  of silk, and curled up, patiently waiting for the transformation to happen.  I watched this caterpillar and thought about my life in isolation.  

Why couldn’t I be more like this caterpillar and just find contentment with my lot?  

For several weeks, I compared myself with others on social media. “Everyone” showed photos of their transformed yards, clean homes, and amazing bonding activities as a family.  I read post after post about how much the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic had inspired them to change and improve.  Like this caterpillar, they were ready and eager for change.  That was not the case with my family.  I resisted change as strongly as I resisted this modern day plague.  Honestly, I didn’t want to do anything.  I just wanted this isolation to end so I could return back to my normal daily life.  

The next few caterpillars went up less calmly.  

One aggressive caterpillar spent most of its time fighting the others.  It would defend its territory, knocking whomever crossed its path back down to the bottom.  Intertwined with each others’ webs, one by one the other caterpillars secured their spot at the top and curled up preparing for the transformation.  

As each caterpillar formed a chrysalis, almost like magic, things calmed down.  Then, the next morning, I witnessed a phenomenon.  The caterpillar who had fought the most, started shaking violently in its chrysalis.  Over and over again it shook, resisting the change.  It was so bizarre.  (I later learned that this was a natural mechanism to ward off predators, but the shaking at the time had been unprovoked.)  As I looked at each chrysalis, I noticed that the ones closest to this energetic one also began to shake.  I couldn’t imagine what they were going through inside that natural jail but I could totally relate to their behavior.  

As it was, I, too, resisted change.   

Deep down inside, I wanted to improve myself, serve others, and learn something from this worldwide pandemic, but here I sat miserable.  What would I emerge as?  Why is it that I fought so hard against something that might be part of my divine transformation and mission in life?  Then I looked at the bottom of the jar.  One lonely caterpillar lay motionless on the ground, unchanged.  

I immediately felt pity for this small caterpillar.  

Poor guy.  All of the caterpillars had changed except him.  Every time he had tried to climb up, he was kicked back down.  For hours, he tried, but he didn’t have enough energy left to make it to the top.  Would I end up like him?  Defeated and downtrodden?  I reflected deeply on this situation.  He would never reach his full potential because he couldn’t fight his way through the others.  There was no place for him.  For some reason I wanted to cry.  I would have to wait to give him his small burial until after I transferred the chrysalides to the butterfly enclosure.  

The next day I looked again at our chrysalides.  A miracle had taken place during the night.  The caterpillar I thought had died had formed a chrysalis!  In spite of his circumstances, God had a bigger plan for him.  Would he emerge as a butterfly?  I transferred the chrysalides to the butterfly enclosure, and then I had my husband, Dave, gently move this chrysalis onto a napkin by the wall of the cage.  Only time would tell.  

After several days, the awe of metamorphosis occurred slowly.  One by one, magnificent Painted Lady Butterflies emerged.  They straightened their wings, dried out, and began exploring their new home.  I was so happy.  Every butterfly emerged except the one on the floor of the enclosure.  We fed them sugar water for a day and prepared to release them into the wild.  

I knew that butterflies only lived for 2-4 weeks after they emerged, yet we were so happy to see them.

 This short-lived masterpiece filled our world with wonder and awe.  In spite of this excitement, I waited anxiously all day to see if the last chrysalis would open.  At first, nothing happened.

But then, in the evening, I saw a small crumpled butterfly appear. 

His wings were misshapen, perhaps due to the fact that he formed on the ground.  He was weak and slow, but yet there he was, beautiful and glorious.  By the next day, his wings had greatly improved.  

We decided to release the butterflies.  

The most active Painted Lady Butterfly left first, followed by its companions.  Only one butterfly remained. It was our little deformed butterfly.  

Like the last three spider’s in Charlotte’s web, he was too small and weak to fly away.  If he couldn’t fly, what was the value of his life?  What was his purpose?

For days, he lived in my strawberry patch.  I watched him fly up a foot and over a small distance and then land again.  He was the only one left, yet this little butterfly gave me hope.  Hope in humanity, hope for a brighter tomorrow, and hope that one day this pandemic would end.  He was my friend and companion, as much as a small insect can be.  Then one night a storm came through. 

The winds blew hard and strong and by the next morning our tiny butterfly was gone.  

I never found his body.  I imagine that he had been carried away in the wind off to another destination.  One might wonder if his short lived existence made a difference.  He never reached his full potential in flying, never mated with another butterfly, never strayed far from home, yet during the time I had with him, he brought me daily joy and happiness.  Did his life matter?  Well, it mattered to me.  

No matter how hard life kicks us down, I believe that we each have a divine mission to fulfill with a glorious potential for good.  

Only God knows the value of our lives and how we may impact one another.  For this butterfly, if he had had feelings, I imagine that he may have felt discouraged and frustrated with his lot in life.  Did his sad existence really matter?  And yet, who can say but that he fulfilled his purpose in life.  As far as I’m concerned, he made more of an impact on my life that any other butterfly ever has.  To me, his life made a difference.   Isn’t that what matters?  

Clay Christensen summed it up beautifully in his book, How Will You Measure Your Life, when he said

“The only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people.  When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage – a doer of good regardless of what assignment I had.  These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life.”  

Clay Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life

I agree.  

So when you ask yourself, “Does my life really matter?” I want you to think of the small Painted Lady Butterfly.

Our lives do matter.  We may never know how we affect others, but I believe that our impact is greater than we will ever know.  I will forever be grateful for the tiny butterfly who blessed my life during our isolation.  

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