“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV
I watched as the Monarch butterfly flitted from leaf to leaf, laying its eggs on my milkweed plants. She started in the garden on the side of my yard and made her way to the garden in the back corner, dropping off her precious cargo on the underside of the milkweed leaves.
It was early September and it occurred to me that the eggs she was dropping here would become the generation in October that would make their way south, probably to Mexico, where they would overwinter, only to start the journey back north in the spring. This process occurs over the course of four or five generations each year.
The first generation, that makes their way south for the winter, head north to the southern U.S. in the spring where they lay their eggs and then die. This second generation make their way further north where the same thing happens. This occurs once or twice again until the third or fourth generation.
It was this generation to which the butterfly that I was watching belonged. Most Monarchs live only two to six weeks, enough time to ensure the next generation. This butterfly was no exception, but it was the eggs she was laying that would become the generation that would migrate, often thousands of miles, to their winter home in Mexico, and then begin the process all over again.
At this point it occurred to me that the butterfly I was observing would be dead in a few weeks, at the most, and this saddened me a bit; but it also, as has been my proclivity since childhood, caused me to question what the purpose of all this was. Fly north, lay eggs, and die; fly north, lay eggs, and die; … fly south, overwinter in Mexico, fly north, lay eggs, and die… and I started asking questions, personal ones, about this particular butterfly.
First, what did she think of all this? How did she feel about it? As I watched, she seemed happy in her work, going from leaf to leaf laying her eggs. Did she know that she would soon be gone? If she did, she did not show it. But of course here I am projecting my own insecurities and fears on her. She was just busily fulfilling the task that G-d had given her. Maybe I should be more like her.
In my blog post Faith, and What’s Important, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of our existence was to love and be loved. To love G-d, and our fellow man, and to be loved in return. We express this love by serving G-d, and we serve G-d by serving each other.
Sounds good, for people – but what about the butterfly? I think there is no question that G-d loves the butterfly; after all, G-d is love and He created the butterfly. But does the butterfly love G-d? Does the butterfly love its fellow butterflies, and if so, how does it express its love?
I think we may be able to answer these questions by exploring a few more of the facts about butterflies, in particular the Monarch. As mentioned previously, the Monarch is a migratory insect. In fact, it is one of the furthest migrating insects known, and certainly the furthest migrating butterfly, up to thousands of miles.
Think about that: this fragile creature flying thousands of miles, surviving heat and cold, storm and wind, rain and drought, in order to ensure the next generation. Pretty awesome, and certainly a service to its fellow Monarch butterflies.
So how else does the Monarch serve? Well, the Monarch is a pollinator, as it goes from flower to flower, feeding on the nectar. This helps to perpetuate beautiful flowers and also provide food for animals and man. Very useful!
The Monarch is also a beautiful creature, considered by many to be the most beautiful of butterflies. Appreciating the Monarch’s beauty can make us feel good and bring us closer to creation. This also is very useful!
But does any of this really get to the heart of the matter? How does any of this further love and the cause of love?
Well, there is one more thing. When you think these things, what does it do to you? When you think of how the Monarch flies thousands of miles and survives to ensure the next generation; when you think of its usefulness as a pollinator; when you contemplate its vulnerability and beauty, what is its impact on you?
Does it make you wonder at G-d’s creation? Does it bring you closer to Him? Do you appreciate G-d’s love more because of it? Do you love Him more?
My answer to those questions is yes, yes, yes, and yes. G-d uses this beautiful and delicate creature to inspire us in so many ways. The Monarch’s migration, against the odds, teaches us that when we are fulfilling G-d’s purpose, anything is possible, any goal is achievable. Despite our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, even our fragility, we can overcome and succeed. As Paul said, “ That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
The Monarch’s usefulness as a pollinator teaches us about the interconnected, interdependent complexities of life, but also about the importance and significance of even the seemingly most insignificant of jobs. Without pollinators, the food chain would be broken, which would be a disaster for the planet. Think about this the next time you start thinking that your work has no purpose, when you get discouraged. No honest work is without meaning, purpose, and honor. Here I think of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”
And what about the Monarch’s beauty? Certainly, the Monarch is pretty, flitting around in orange and black, but does that make it beautiful? Or, is its appearance only what attracts our attention? Does its true beauty lie deeper? Of course it does.
The Monarch’s beauty is connected to all of the things we have just discussed. Its happily fulfilling G-d’s purpose, the faith and courage it displays by its travels, despite its vulnerability. Its dedication to the continuance and preservation of life, not its own, but of future generations of butterflies, animals, and people. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” 1 Peter 3:3-4
So, does my little Monarch love G-d, and if so, how does she express that love? The answer seems obvious to me: of course she does, and she does it in the same way that we do, when we are being more like her. She loves G-d by fulfilling His purpose: loving and serving others.