Monday, June 20, 2016

The Greatest of These

My first thought upon waking this morning was a prayer: Lord, give me hope for today. Almost instantly I realized that my prayer was anticipated and already answered. I had been sleepless only a few hours earlier, and a memory from a couple of decades ago had come to mind. This memory constituted the hope that I had just asked for.

For the summer I had decided to teach my two oldest boys about butterflies. We made crude nets and started a contest. Every time one of the boys caught a butterfly that we hadn't caught before he would win a candy bar of his choice. We always admired the creatures in the net, identified them with our guidebook, and then released them. The easiest ones had already been caught, and the challenge was getting harder. On this particular morning both boys and I were out looking, and suddenly near Eric, the younger of the two, two tiger swallowtails flew within reach. I shouted to Eric to get them, but his older brother responded also, and in one great stroke swept both of them into his net. Eric was livid with outrage. Those were his butterflies. John had stolen them from him and gotten his prize. There was no consolation that appeased his anger.

Later the same day Eric and I were alone in the front yard. I encouraged him to keep trying to catch butterflies, but the resentment was still so strong. Eric was unwilling to make an effort at something about which he had become hopeless. At last a large butterfly came by. We both guessed it was a tiger swallowtail, and I encouraged him to try and catch it anyway just for the thrill of a closeup glimpse of it. He didn't want to do it because he wouldn't get the candy bar. At my insistence, he went ahead and tried. Swallowtails are large and fast and often fly too high to be caught, so I'm not exactly sure how Eric in high dudgeon managed to catch it, but he did. Imagine our astonishment when it opened its wings. It was not a tiger swallowtail, but a giant swallowtail--enormous and stunning. Eric's elation and my relief were complete.

It is a simple story of disappointment, perseverance, and joy, and one of my favorite memories. Sometimes we make our search for something too hard. It is right in front of us, and we just need to reach out to find it. Faith can be like that. God shows himself in simple ways, and we need the eyes of a child to see him. We also need to make an effort--to hope when despair is easier--and sometimes that effort is against our very will. We aren't always answered in the way we expect, but the key is recognizing that we did get an answer after all. God doesn't always say yes. Nor does he always answer why.

But this story is special on another level. When that butterfly opened its wings, we both gasped. The wingspan was beyond the width of my palm, the specimen was in pristine condition, and the dramatic black with spotted yellow lines was astonishing in its beauty. As I remembered that event this morning, I felt God bend down and kiss my boy on the forehead. Faith and hope--I witnessed for sure on this day--but greater than these is love.