For several years now, my family has received a box of caterpillars in the mail every summer. Through clear cup containers, we watch them turn into butterflies. The instructions include transferring the chrysalides so the butterflies emerge in a spacious, netted container.
This year I ordered and promptly forgot about the caterpillars. Weeks later they arrived, and I hunted for their net homes to make the transfer, only to discover they’d been misplaced in our move to a new town.
A few days later we woke to see the butterflies hadn’t waited for their transfer to emerge, and something we’d never seen before happened. The butterflies had begun to fight. They had outgrown the space, and they were pressing each other against the walls of the cups, trying to claim all the space they could.
We took the cups outside, and after several minutes I suggested my boys tip them on their sides. It turned out a shift in direction was all the butterflies needed, and all but one of them flew out. They seized the opportunity for space, finding new homes in our yard.
The butterfly that stayed was injured and couldn’t seem to fly. Maybe it didn’t even try. Maybe it was afraid, preferring to stay in a kind of comfort zone.
I don’t want to take an analogy too far, but I can’t help but see a parallel in our butterfly experience to some experiences I’ve personally had in ministry. You may have been someone who, when pressed for space as circumstances and calling changed, was able to fly away to wherever God next called you. But I wonder if you, like me, can identify with the injured butterfly. Perhaps, hurt in the shuffle of change, you feel cast to the side in favor of the newest ministry trend at church. Maybe, like me, you’ve been restricted to volunteer roles while others with no more experience than you are hired to supervise you simply because of gender. Maybe you feel a calling from God, but support is hindered by church red tape. Or perhaps your past has others putting you in the “incapable” box.
Paul and Barnabas were divided on their opinion regarding John Mark.
“Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (Acts 15:36–39).
Paul labeled John Mark untrustworthy because of one choice (leading to an injury, if you will). Barnabas, however, seemed to feel John Mark changed. Apparently Barnabas was right, because we learn later in Colossians 4:10 that Paul wanted the church to welcome John Mark and considered him a help to his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Before the reconciliation with Paul, Barnabas saw something in John Mark that Paul missed. Barnabas was willing to give John Mark a second chance, to use what he had to offer within his calling, and it seems that doing so set John Mark’s path on a trajectory of lifetime ministry.
We shouldn’t let our calling be defined by our critics, to consider ourselves too injured by them to fly. Too often, instead of seeking out a Barnabas for encouragement, I’ve stayed in my container, wounded from judgmental words. I’ve allowed others to tell me what I’m capable of even when God’s leading clearly contradicted their opinion. I’ve limited my vision to options others have outlined instead of looking in different directions.
God’s timing is always perfect. His call is what matters, and he will direct our paths (Psalm 23:3). It may mean stepping out of the only container we’ve ever known, having outgrown it even before others are ready to let us fly.
Your calling is important. It’s part of who God created you to be and it’s how he wants you to reflect his love for the world. God won’t change his mind about your calling because you’ve been injured. A place for your ministry exists, sister. The burning inside you isn’t going away. It’s God’s encouragement to find the place to spread your wings. When you find it, you will flourish.
Beth Walker is a football coach’s wife and mom of two energetic boys. She strives to encourage those around her to pursue their best lives in Jesus whether she is near the game field, in church, or at the local coffee shop. As a writer, Beth has been striving to find her voice through seeing Jesus in the ordinary and extraordinary of daily life. She blogs at Lessons from the Sidelines.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission