Cocooning – self imposed isolation in order to rest, retool and transform into someone stronger, more beautiful and with wings!
They say whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, won’t wound us and doesn’t require healing.
When my mother died, she took a part of me with her. I felt like a caterpillar whose legs had been pinched off. I was still left with enough to walk, but I was handicapped and needed to heal. I would never re-grow those limbs since I have no regenerative powers of my own. It was going to take some time and it was going to take patience from everyone around me.
The caterpillar (Monarch butterfly) eats an incredible amount of milkweed before it attaches itself by a thread to a branch and slowly but surely becomes encased in its cocoon. It knows just what it needs to eat and consumes as much as is available. Certain plants sustain certain types of caterpillars which help transform them into certain types of butterflies.
In my grief I dined on a steady diet of the Psalms and any book about heaven that I could find. I was on a desperate search for someone else to walk with me in this dark place – someone who knew the territory and wasn’t afraid of it. I secluded myself in my thoughts and even physically. I spent much of my time alone in my room just trying to make some sense out of what happened. Nothing else appealed to me and no one else mattered. There were still chores to do and tasks to complete, but only those things that depended on my survival were done. My attention to everything and everyone else fell by the wayside – including being a companion, friend and lover to the man I married.
And he didn’t know what to do about it.
I know from the outside it looked as if I was just doing nothing but withdrawing from life and into myself. But in fact I was working hard to make sense of what had happened, determining what was really important, discarding those things that weren’t, and allowing God to reassemble me into a new creature. Inside the cocoon is a bubbling cauldron of activity as the caterpillar literally liquefies and then reassembles into a very different creature. This process takes an undetermined amount of time. Just as the caterpillar slowly but surely becomes sheathed in his cocoon, I too began to develop a hardened shell to protect me as I entered this place of solitude.
Although this shell hid me from predators like those who might seek to hurt or destroy me, it also kept at bay those who might be a welcome salve during this time of grieving. My husband waited – waited for an opening or crack in the shell. I could see him peaking in at me every once in a while with an unexpected smile or act of kindness.
Life Goes On
We both had to wait and see what the transformation would bring. My waiting included watching him go on with his daily life without me. I watched as he spent time with our boys, went to his pottery class, his men’s Bible study and our church’s youth ministry where he was a leader. At night he surrounded himself with his newspapers and magazines in front of the television as if he were hunkering down for a long winter’s night.
At first as life went on without me I was relieved. Normally I am someone who needs to be needed, but while you cocoon you don’t have the energy to meet someone else’s needs. It takes all the energy you have just to be still and allow the transformation to run its course. But this is life too. God’s call to be still and know He is God is not a vacation. God works in us during these times so that we might break the patterns we follow in this world and be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). This is life-giving power! I was not dead inside this cocoon. God poured His life into mine so that I might have life more abundantly when I finally emerged.
You have to work to get out of the cocoon. It’s a struggle for the butterfly and for me. I want my husband to pull me out of this cocoon but he couldn’t. He didn’t even know where to begin. And I wasn’t giving him any clues. I had to come out by myself. And I didn’t know how either. So we both sat and waited and wondered.
During this time I was tethered to God by only a thread, but that thread was strong and immovable. I held on for dear life. Little by little He filled me with the promises of his word and I believed Him. Promises of peace (Philippians 4:7), promises of hope (Romans 15:13), promises of a plan (Jeremiah 29:11) and finally promises that Jesus is with me in this cocoon, the only One who could go with me into that deep, dark place (Matthew 28:20). His peace surrounded me and changed the landscape. I could see through the walls of my cocoon and out towards the life I left behind.
Finally the cocoon is too confining and there is almost desperation to break free. I began to return to life little by little. I cooked dinner for my family, spent time with my husband even just in front of the television, and reconnected with friends on a tenuous level. You’re vulnerable though when you emerge. I was still a little shaky and my limbs felt weak. I didn’t charge out of the cocoon, I hobbled out. It’s exhausting! You need to sit still and let your wings dry in the sun. But keep in mind that predators await. You must be on guard. These new wings are delicate and fragile.
The enemy knows you are weak. He will sling arrows at your beautiful, yet still slender wings. If Chip said one word that I could construe as harmful, I fell wounded and broken all over again. In his impatience about waiting for me to emerge, words were said that hurt me when I finally came out. But in order not to be crushed, I had to open my mouth and let him know my fragile state. It’s the silence that kills.
How could I explain what it felt like to suddenly be a motherless child at 40 years old? Without the benefit of a shared experience, my husband felt helpless to give me what I needed to recover. I realized that he didn’t need to know exactly how I felt – he just needed to want to know. His arms around me were enough. His silent kisses and strong belief in our own future assured me. God used His Word and His steadfast love through my husband to pump my wings with his life-powering blood so that I could get back my strength and finally fly.
With my new eyes, I saw things more clearly and with greater depth perception. I saw that God was there with me in my brokenness. I saw His faithfulness even when I wasn’t faithful. I saw the pain of others as something to which I could now relate and my desire is to soothe them as a welcome salve. With fewer legs, I travel with less baggage. I no longer carry the unyielding expectations of others as I prepare for flight. I’ve let go of those fears that crippled me, so that I might walk unencumbered. With multi-colored wings, I catch the attention of others who live in that deep, dark place. My wings are the colors of compassion, mercy and grace and I am willing to wait for others when they cocoon.
All I needed was someone to sit outside of that deep, dark place and just wait with me and let me know they were still there. No judgment. No expectations. Just love and mercy and grace. It’s hard for those we love to sit still and wait. But in their stillness, they too will know He is God. They too will learn compassion. Nothing is wasted. Not the cocooning, not the pain, not the loneliness, and not what it took to finally emerge. We are stronger now, he and I. Losing a parent shattered the image I had of myself. But that image was recreated into a man and a woman who are holding on tighter than ever to each other. With the transformation now complete, I am finally able to join the other butterflies already in flight.
NOTE: I got a butterfly tattoo to represent my transformation (pictured above). I pray you remember that you are always tethered, that nothing is wasted with God, and that even if you find yourself sitting in the dark, you are not alone. Selah!