A class had a cocoon in an aquarium. They watched the butterfly emerge. The butterfly struggled and struggled. It hurt to watch. The butterfly rested in exhaustion after getting partway out. When the teacher left the room, some boys decided to help the butterfly. One carefully cut the edge of the cocoon. The butterfly flopped onto the floor of the aquarium. Only it looked wrong. The body was a squishy blob and the wings were all crumpled. The next day the butterfly died. The teacher said the butterfly couldn't fly until fluid was forced out of the body and into the wings, stretching and opening them. As it struggled out of the cocoon, this happened. It needed that struggle to mature. By "helping" the butterfly the boys had crippled its wings. It would never fly and could only die.
I heard this story as part of a sermon. It spoke to me immediately. I had one parent who tended to neglect ("It's your problem. You take care of it. Don't come running to me."), but the other tended to intrusive coddling. He "fixed" difficulties in a way that caused harm, just like the boys with the butterfly. Even now, I am more angry with the second parent than the first.
Yet, I have the same tendency. I adopted a rescue dog who was severely abused as a puppy. Ordinary noises can send her into a panic. Then she hides shivering in her bed. I want to rush to the rescue, cuddle her and say, "There, there. Don't be scared. I'm here." This is exactly the wrong thing to do for a dog. When I make a big deal of her fear, she learns that fear is the correct response. I know this. But it's hard to resist my desire to "fix it."
Al Majkrzak of Madison, Wisconsin was one of the boys in the butterfly story. He concluded his sermon by saying that Jesus could fill our wings when the struggle grew too hard. Jesus' message was, "Let my fluid fill your wings."
It's a comforting message that many of us ache to hear, but I think it's mistaken.
A butterfly can only fly after it struggles itself out of its' cocoon. A child can only find her wings after struggling herself into maturity. It hurts the butterfly for some human to cut away the cocoon and it hurts the child for a parent to do the equivalent.
We would not be here in bodies struggling ourselves into understanding and maturity if the struggle itself were not necessary, a creative process. Jesus is not going to short circuit our growth by smoothing over our struggles.
Yet neglect is equally mistaken. Something else is offered. Something that truly helps.
I experience two things in my relationship with Jesus. The Jesus I know is a laughing, dancing, joyous presence. When I touch that, I can hold my pain lightly because it seems to be part of a larger, brilliantly sweet whole. My pain seems to lead to something entirely good, even if I have no clue how that works.
Also, when I touch Jesus' presence I feel completely loved - with every one my struggles, mistakes, insights and triumphs. I feel wholly buoyed up in glorious love. Compassion: this love does not try to fix or improve anything about me. Because there is nothing about me that needs to be fixed or improved. I'm already doing really good work, really well. All I have to do is keep at it. However twisted I may feel, Jesus stands at my side, present to all my feeling, offering encouragement and joyous approval.