Invited to Transformation: A Chrysalis Story

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jessica sanborn -a chrysalis story3By Jessica L. Sanborn | Twitter: @jlsanbornwrites

“And the world cannot be described by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.” — Wendell Berry

September arrived, and with it a force of black-white-and-yellow striped caterpillars emerged among the garden’s dill. We chose a plump specimen, and we put her into a butterfly house that we placed on our kitchen counter. I don’t know who was more excited to witness the caterpillar/butterfly transformation, the kids or me. Probably me.

After a day or two of eating more dill, the caterpillar attached herself by threads to the underside of a stick. She diminished. Her color faded. I feared she was dying.

After days of nothing happening, on a Saturday afternoon, I happened to glance into the butterfly house.

The caterpillar convulsed, still attached to the stick. She roiled her body until her skin split down her back. Rocking and wrestling, she shed that skin right off of her body. It fell to the floor like a discarded t-shirt. She gave one final heave and settled into stillness as a chrysalis.

I watched, transfixed and holding my breath. My heart swelled.

Then I exploded: “I’m a chrysalis! I’m a chrysalis! I just did that!”

In a few short months, I had shed huge parts of my identity–soul-smothering roles that no longer fit. Lawyer skin, gone. Church skin, gone. I had even dropped the questions that had torn my faith to shreds, trading them for the question: “How am I supposed to be?”

All that was left of my faith was hunger and unknowing.

Soon after the shedding, I found space and air and breath and life. I was getting to know God again in a way that I had never before experienced. Still, I had no five-year plan, no answer for the questions about where I belonged and what I was made for. I was anxious for those answers.

That chrysalis moment told me: Your soul is in transition. This time requires quiet and stillness. This is going to look like inaction to the rest of the world. You don’t know what you’re going to emerge as, but it will be entirely different. You don’t know how long this process will take. Don’t hurry through this time of undoing, being, and re-creation.

When I witnessed that butterfly soul shedding its caterpillar skin, I didn’t know that this time of shedding, not-knowing, and waiting was an actual place on any map of adult spiritual transformation.

This time between the dying and the rising, the shedding and the new creation, is sometimes referred to as liminal space. Old ways and old identities no longer work and new ways and new identities have not yet formed.

According to Richard Rohr, “Nothing new happens as long as we are inside our self-constructed comfort zone. Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. Much of the work of the God of the Bible is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space, maybe the only one.”

At some point, we are all invited to that process of shedding and then shedding some more. We come to a point where we are undone, stripped bare, and invited to discover who we are in the quiet places in our soul. We all have a choice when we find ourselves in the middle of that invitation to transformation. It helps to recognize the invitation. It helps to know that we are not completely lost or back-sliding. We are at a threshold where something deep and true and real waits for us if we are willing to let go and be still and wait.

After my shedding, I was conscious only of having a choice. I could choose to embrace this time of not-knowing and of learning a whole new way of being. Or I could plow ahead and forge my own path, make my own plans, and see how that turned out. I had tried that before. I prepared to settle into the depths of my waiting. The waiting was and is both hard and rich. Now, four years later, a path appears to be emerging one step at a time. I’m emerging, unfurling, and embracing this new way of being.

_______

About Jessica:

J.L.SanbornI am a homebody, a lover of beautiful words, changing seasons, and soul-deep conversation. Every day, I tell my 3 kids that I’m lucky to be their mom. I’m married to someone who has always been comfortable in his own skin and gives me space to be just who I am, whoever that might be at the time. Currently, I am training to become a spiritual director.

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  • Stopped in my tracks by that image of God working to get us into liminal space and then wrestling to keep us there so He can do His chrysalis work.
    Thanks for submitting to the process and then sharing it so beautifully.

    • It is a stunning image and process, isn’t it? Thank you for your kind words, Michele.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    So beautiful! Thank you for sharing this 💙

  • Lynn Bolmgren

    I love this image, and I can so relate to it all! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Lynn. It’s always encouraging to find out we aren’t alone.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Thank you for this, Jess, and for so much.

    • Oh, Rachel. You are welcome. Thank you for journeying with me.

  • Oh Jess, this is gorgeous. When I was a kid, we used to watch the chrysalis transformation every year. So amazing. The shedding process can be so painful and scary, especially if we’ve been focused on having answers. It helps to recognize the invitation. Thank you for all the ways you’ve helped me see the beauty, richness, and hope in the waiting and for reminding me I’m not alone.

    • Thanks so much, Jo! I’m so glad that we get to walk with each other.

  • Mary Gemmill

    LOVED this, and am thankful you have put words to this process we all endure, and offer HOPE that one day we will be fully formed butterflies [ or pearls,]

  • Abby

    This is exactly where I’m at. Thank you for sharing.

    • Abby, I hope that you have or that you find good company in your waiting. You are not alone.

      • Abby

        Thank you. I needed to hear that today.