Butterflies don’t go around kicking themselves for the things they did as caterpillars. They are much too busy flying high and living that butterfly life. A Facebook friend recently posted this lovely picture of the butterfly. It had just emerged from the chrysalis it had made on her turk’s cap, a relative of the hibiscus shrub, and I thought about what an amazing transformation the pudgy, squishy caterpillar had to make to become that delicate butterfly. As Christians, we went through our own metamorphosis when we became born again. But how many Christian butterflies are living their lives in regret over the things they did in their former larval lives?
Caterpillar to Butterfly
Caterpillars begin their lives as eggs, laid strategically on the kind of plant they need to eat. From the time they hatch, they eat, molt, and eat some more until they are done growing to their full length and size. Then it is time for them to form themselves into the pupa, or chrysalis. They attach themselves to the underside of a leaf and spinning a protective covering around themselves. During the time inside, big things are happening. The insect basically liquifies, rearranging itself into its new form. After a set amount of time in this stage (different for each species), a butterfly emerges. No longer stuck to the leaf with a single mind to consume, the butterfly instead has a new mission to bring beauty to the earth, pollinate flowers, and continue the species.
Sinner to Christian
As Christians, we all began in sin. We spent our time single-mindedly consuming the things the world had to offer, conforming ourselves to the ways of the flesh. When we came to the end of ourselves and realized that we are in desperate need for a Savior to cover our sins, we cried out in repentance and faith, and God supernaturally changed us into a new creature. We were born again. While the outside changes may have been slight or even indistinguishable, inside a great miracle happened. We were dead, and now we are alive.
When we emerged from the born again experience in that twinkling of an eye, our whole purpose for living changed. No longer earth bound and concerned with consuming and conforming, our new lives in Christ have a completely different focus. Now located in heavenly places, we bring beauty to the world with our lights on our lampstands. We devote ourselves to bringing love for God and man wherever we go. We are servants to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And, we seek to use our testimony to win others to salvation.
Don’t Live in Regret
But what about those Christians butterflies who are still sitting on their leaves lamenting the decisions that they made as caterpillars, retracing footsteps and replaying every mouthful and molt? They aren’t caterpillars any more, but they aren’t really very good butterflies either. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, the Bible says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” When God drew us unto Himself, He gave us grace.
That feeling of great sadness for our offense against a holy God could only come from God Himself. It led to the repentance that ended in salvation. That very anguish we felt at our transgressions created in us a carefulness to avoid sin, a desire to please God, and a desperate need to be reconciled to Him. Nobody regrets that sorrow because without it, we could not have repented to salvation and become born again. But there is another kind of sorrow that too many Christians get caught up in. It’s the sorrow of the world, and that’s the kind that produces death.
Regret Can Make Us Sick
Worldly sorrow grieves the loss of worldly things. Let’s face it: sin has consequences. We can repent of the lies, the adultery, and the unforgiveness, but sometimes we are still left with broken trust, broken relationships, and lost opportunities. God’s forgiveness makes us right with Him. But, we may still be stuck in the middle of the tattered mess that sin made in our lives. Focusing on the regret over decisions made before we became Christians doesn’t get us any closer to God. We can’t go back and change a single thing.
What it can do, however, is turn into a pattern of self-criticism and chronic stress and even depression that can actually cause physical problems for us (even leading to death). According to an article from Psychology Today entitled “The Psychology of Regret,” this kind of repetitive, negative, self-focused thinking can adversely affect hormones and immune system functioning. It can reduce our ability to fight infections and even actually make us sick. And sick, sad butterflies don’t do much pollinating or propagating.
Regret Can Open Doors For the Enemy
But sickness isn’t the only danger with worldly sorrow, because it can also open the door to the enemy. While being sad and sorry for the things we did while we were in the world was the very thing that led to our repentance, after we are born again, we should allow God to put our sins as far away from us as east is from the west. But thinking about that sin, regretting it, fretting over what might have been, and being anxious for the situation we find ourselves in at the present just plays right into the devil’s trap of condemnation. It turns us away from the peace that is found when we cast our cares upon God. Hashing and rehashing our wrongdoings only show an inability to believe that God can really erase the stains and use all things for the good of us who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Once we have confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness, John 1:9 lets us know that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As born again believers, we are clean. We have to believe it and live like it, or the enemy will keep our thoughts turning in circles and focused on ourselves. Instead, we should keep our eyes on Christ, performing the good works that God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Break the Cycle
So how do we break free from the cycles of thinking we have built up for ourselves? Of course, prayer is the ultimate answer. We should ask God to free us from the negative patterns of thought that harm our health and faith and open doors for the enemy. We must pray for God to help us conform to Philippians 3:13-14 “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
But beyond that, I believe there is value in the lesson of the butterfly. We have to remember that after we were born again, we became a new creation. Old things have truly passed away and all things have become new. Our focus is not the same as it was, nor should it be. Continuing to live in the past just hurts us and keeps us from our purpose. We aren’t caterpillars anymore but butterflies. We need to be all about that butterfly life.
If you like analogies, try Message in the Moisturizer: We Can Choose Change . It is an object lesson about changing for the better. Or, try It’s Not the Machine That Makes Us Clean. It compares aspects of the Christian life to a dishwasher.
Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.