All things new! Sure beats the alternative: stale, repetitive life.But newness is not instantaneous. It depends on endings. And so a question: Have you ended anything? For the most part, we view endings as bad. But endings are just a natural part of the rhythm of life. We don’t comprehend the normalcy of endings, because endings necessitate loss, and loss stinks.
So we resist endings. But remember, you can’t get newness without loss. Vital life is dependent on releasing some aspect of what we’ve always known. Jesus teaches this: “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat” (John 12:24, The Message).
So too for our lives. Unless we are willing to become “dead to the world,” entering into necessary endings, we never advance.
A few years ago, Scientific American described the developmental process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Most of us fixate on the outcome: the butterfly. But a butterfly would never emerge if the caterpillar were not willing to “die to self,” disintegrating into a protein-rich soup—caterpillar soup—that fuels “the rapid cell division required to form the . . . features of an adult butterfly or moth.”
A glorious butterfly occurs only if disintegration happens, if caterpillar soup is allowed to take place. In like manner, glorious life does not occur for us unless disintegration happens, as we allow life to “get soupy” on occasion.
Where does life need to get soupy for you? Where do endings need to occur?
Last summer, my son married. This was a much-anticipated wedding, and you would think this new beginning would be a season of pure and unadulterated joy. Largely, it was. But ramping up to the wedding day, I also experienced a fair measure of grief mingled with my joy. Peter and I had been close for years, and I feared things would now be different.
I stewed about this right up to the wedding. Before walking out with him to begin the ceremony, I could contain my fear no longer. Turning to Peter, literally right before we processed, I blurted out, “You’ll still call me, won’t you? We’ll still be close?”
He assured me, “Of course, Dad!”
We proceeded on, and now beyond, with my amped anxiety for naught; I not only gained a cherished daughter, I gained a reshaped, more differentiated son.
There are understandable reasons why we avoid the “soup” of life. But if we’re attentive, we’ll awaken to a counterintuitive discovery that endings and loss can result, in God’s time, in a reshaped reality—which is good.
On occasion, God times confirmation of his goodness in the near term; your son turns and says, “Of course, Dad.” But more often, God times the confirmation of his goodness in the far term, requiring patience, perseverance, and trust.
In between, hard honesty is required, as we trust God for goodness. But acknowledge that it’s a process, requiring “caterpillar soup” and the necessity of living with some gooeyness for a season. From the gooeyness, God does promise goodness, if we just give God some time—the time of our life.
Paul Mundey is a visiting scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary. He pastored Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren for 20 years, after serving as director of evangelism and congregational growth for the Church of the Brethren.