You might have heard of the butterfly effect, but I’ve been enamored recently with something I can only dub the “chrysalis effect.” Chrysalis: just a fancy term for a butterfly’s cocoon, the gold pupa that breaks apart to deliver the fluttering wings and buzzing legs and fuzzy body we love to see floating through our flower beds every spring. But there’s a price to be paid inside the chrysalis.

I’m no scientist, but a recent documentary on butterflies (“Metamorphosis,” Illustra Media) opened my eyes to the wonder and terror that a chrysalis represents. By some instinct built into the genome of the caterpillar, the very hungry little fellow spends his lighting-fast adolescence and brief adulthood eating mass amounts of foliage, stocking up for his next iteration. And then at just the right moment, on just the right kind of plant, at just the right place on a leaf, he fashions his pupa around himself and holds very still. He’s waiting for something rather awful, actually. Something that makes me cringe, yet something that makes me respect and adore him: he’s waiting for his own body to turn on him. He’s waiting for his own cells to begin digesting the organs and little caterpillar structures that have supported and defined him up until this point. His insides, his whole body, turns to soup, rearranging itself according to a built-in set of genetic instructions that are the precursor to the fluttery wings and buzzing legs and fuzzy body. The caterpillar allows himself to be completely disassembled. If something were to interrupt the process even for a second, not only would there be no butterfly, there would be no caterpillar either. Just a mass of cells. Just a mess.

In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul is encouraging his readers to have an eternal perspective of the various trials they were suffering because of Jesus. He reminds them of something rather awful, yet something that makes me respect and adore him: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

In the great mystery of our relationship with Jesus, not only do we share in his life, but we also share in his death. Paul knew this, to be sure. His many imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, and social abandonments affirm it. Even Jesus asks us to rehearse this mystery of death-with-him through the sacrament of baptism, and in the pesky way he asks us to pick up our cross behind him (Matt. 16:24). We can’t escape the fact that being a true follower of Jesus — to be used by him to reveal life and hope to the world — requires massive disassembly.

How are you being disassembled today?

Earlier in Paul’s life, when he had been confronted by the risen Christ and blinded on the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke to a follower named Ananias. He told him to go and lay hands on Paul to restore his vision and bless him as a new brother. When Ananias protested, Jesus tells him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15, emphasis mine).

Even from the beginning, Paul knew things would be hard. Jesus had a pretty exhaustive, and exhausting, itinerary for him. But Paul also knew he had signed up for a transcendent life, one that would break open so light and life and joy could reach kings and Jews and Gentiles. Paul willingly followed Christ’s example, who, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Maybe God is showing you what you must suffer for his name today. Enormous or smallish, mega-sized or mundane, the chrysalis is the cost of discipleship. But the chrysalis doesn’t get the last word. There’s joy just outside these murky walls — singing and music and dancing just beyond them, a chorus of, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

If you find yourself structure-less with grief inside a prison of pain you think just might kill you — just wait. It will. And that’s the point. Just hold very still. Drink down the cup. New and more beautiful structures are being fashioned inside of you, even now, for the continued redemption of a groaning world. Try to see it if you can, the shimmering victory, the joy before you, the life-to-the-fullest, coming just over the hill. Spring will not be held at bay.


Julie K. Rhodes the author of the newest book, Chronic Grace, lives in Fort Worth, TX, with her husband Gordon and two teenage kids Drew and Maddie, plus pug Eloise ("The Eyeballs."). She performs regularly on stages all over Dallas-Fort Worth area and has multiple film and commercial credits.

You may also contact Julie at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule her for speaking or leadership engagements.