Pastoral Perspectives

Lessons From A Caterpillar

The caterpillar on our front door

One day in October last year, I returned home from school to find a little green caterpillar climbing up our front door. Carefully I picked it up brought it into the house and put it in a container, much to the delight of my children. The very next day, to our surprise, the caterpillar was gone and in its place was a chrysalis. Without realizing it, I had provided a safe place for this little caterpillar to turn into a butterfly.

Eagerly we waited for the butterfly to emerge, but as the days passed and with winter approaching, we began to grow doubtful that a butterfly would emerge. And even if it did, with all the flowers and leaves gone, how would it survive? Could it be that the caterpillar had chosen the wrong time to pupate?

For some reason, while all this was happening, thoughts of a similarly unexpected experience resurfaced in my memory. Not too long ago (and quite out of the blue) I managed to reconnect with a friend I had not seen for many years. We caught up over coffee and after some time he asked what my future plans were. After a pause I awkwardly replied that I was in the process of quitting my job to become a missionary. Though he continued smiling and we kept talking, we did not return to this topic again. After we parted ways, I gave out a sigh, wondering if we would meet again. However, to my astonishment, I received a text from him a few weeks later asking to meet.

During our 2nd meeting he shared that since we met, several inexplicable things had happened to him. In a nutshell, he had felt confronted by the presence of God and because of our recent conversation he felt compelled to speak to me about it as he had decided he wanted to become a Christian. Naturally I was overjoyed, to hear such words coming from my friend’s mouth and as we sat down to pray together, I felt amazed at what God had done and so grateful that I could be a part of someone’s conversion story right there and then.

The Work Belongs to the Lord

It has been said time and time again that the work of conversion is entirely the Lords. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul reminds us of this in his words,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

This truth was made manifest to me at this moment as here was a person who I had not interacted with in years, never once shared the gospel to, nor even once prayed for. Had it not been for — what I considered then to be — a ‘foolish’ decision to share my plans to become a missionary I probably wouldn’t be sitting together with him rejoicing in his decision to follow Christ. While I had failed at that moment to recognize that my friend had been in a ‘chrysalis’ state, thankfully God’s work has never been dependent on me or my ability to judge when a person is ready to receive the gospel.

Much like the caterpillar on my front door, all I had done was be in the right place at the right time: God had done everything else. And just like how caterpillars invisibly transform into a butterflies, my friend’s transformation process had happened invisibly inside his heart.

The Timing Belongs to the Lord

The butterfly after it emerged

Thoughts of my friend’s conversion would come up again and again throughout the months that passed since the caterpillar had become a chrysalis. Because of this, I harbored a secret hope that the chrysalis would be fine and eagerly awaited the coming of Spring.

Sure enough, in April, when the weather had warmed enough, the chrysalis started to change colour and one morning we awoke to find a beautiful butterfly had emerged. By God’s hand, the magical process of metamorphosis had been completed. Indeed, it is a great mystery how nature knows exactly when something should happen though this wisdom is also recorded in God’s word in Ecclesiastes 3:1,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”.

In subsequent conversations with my friend, I learnt that it was his father who had been praying tirelessly for his salvation all these years. Why the Lord chose to open his heart only at that moment I will never know, but for my friend’s father, his long awaited ‘spring’ had finally arrived. My friend’s salvation was by no means an accident but had happened perfectly, according to God’s timing.

The Planning Belongs to the Lord

One last lesson I received was how God’s plans are not what we expect them to be. After all, God’s word as recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

After a few hours of emerging from the chrysalis, it became apparent that one of the butterfly’s wings was deformed and it could not fly. Aside from trying to find flowers for it, there was little we could do and in a few days it died. After so many months of waiting our joy at finally seeing it was quickly extinguished by its swift demise. Yet, because of its wing and the amount of attention we poured on it, we managed to spend a lot more time with it than if it had just flown off. While we could not change the fate of our ‘pet’ we tried to give it as best a life it could have. After all, had it been out in the wild, it probably wouldn’t have survived for very long with a deformed wing. Perhaps it was the Lord’s mercy to it that we were there to keep it safe.

The butterfly sitting on our flowers

In a similar fashion, things did not go as expected following my friend’s conversion. Due to reasons beyond our control, we hardly met more than a handful of times afterwards. A year later I departed with my family to Japan and though I still message him from time to time, it has been difficult to maintain closer ties. While I cannot help but look back and wish that things had gone differently, I trust that I did everything I could. It seems that the Lord had other plans all along for his growth, plans which I am not a part of, at least for the moment I hope! Like the butterfly that could not fly, perhaps this too will be revealed to be a better plan after all?

In retrospect, it surprises me that the Lord used the life of a lowly caterpillar to bring some clarity to my own experiences with my friend. In many ways it has been a great encouragement to me that despite my many weaknesses and faults, the Lord still continues to use me. Thanks to this gentle reminder, I am at peace knowing that while things do not always turn out the way I want them to, the important thing is that the Lord’s work continues uninterrupted

Ultimately it is God who is in control and we, as His church are but humble servants; walking in obedience to the promptings of the Spirit. So whether He is calling us to share the gospel to another, or to be there when someone’s heart is ready to receive it, or even just allowing a little caterpillar to be a part of our lives, may we graciously accept our roles in God’s salvation plan for this world, until the next one comes.


Sean Tan (Missionary to Japan)

June 28, 2020