Date: July 31, 2016
Title: “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 27; Philippians 4:4-7
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Famous words from a famous man, Mohammed Ali. A champion boxer, and a champion for equality, Ali was an outspoken critic of white privilege, and a generous humanitarian in his later years. When he first said he was going to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, he was using the phrase to taunt his opponent Sonny Liston, before their heavyweight fight in 1964. Throughout his public career, Ali was famous for making outrageous statements and clever quips like these:
- It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.
- It’s hard to be humble, when you’re as great as I am.
- Superman don’t need no seat belt!
- Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
But the one most of us remember most easily, the one we can almost always attribute directly to Ali, is this one, Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. It may be a description – self-avowed or not – of an athlete’s graceful moves. Or, it may be a way to describe what we all experience in this life… change.
This week is the last in our “You Asked For It” series of sermons and hymn choices. And the topic you wanted me to address today is “How can we make friends with change?” We all know there is nothing more constant than change, and it is easy to appreciate the way Pema Chodron puts it in her Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. She writes:
That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of
existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything – every
tree, every blade of grass, all of the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the
animate and the inanimate – everything is always changing, moment to moment. We
don’t have to be mystics or physicists to know this.
Yet, at the level of personal experience, we resist this basic fact of life. It means that
life isn’t always going to go our way. It means there will be loss as well as gain.
It means that sometimes, change is going to float like a butterfly in our lives. And other times, change is going to sting us like a bee!
Change comes in so many forms and takes on so many faces. Think about it for a minute. There is money, for instance. Whether we make it, win it, are given it, or lose it, money can profoundly change our lives. Then there are the successes we enjoy, the graduations from one goal, one step in life to the next. These certainly involve change. And of course, we undergo big changes in relationships when we marry or when we divorce. And babies – don’t even get me started on the changes babies bring, more than anyone could ever imagine before they are born! And what about moving? That is certainly a major change in anyone’s life. I think moving ranks somewhere in the top 10 on the list of life’s biggest stressors… a good reason to not be elected bishop, I’d say!
There are the changes we expect, the ones which seem to float like a butterfly into our lives, blessing us with gentleness and joy. Then there are the changes we cannot anticipate, the ones which catch us off guard and may even sting us like a bee. Our house catches on fire and life changes dramatically. We lose our job, become unemployed for far too long and have no idea how life will ever be the same. Or we hear the dreaded cancer diagnosis, or a loved one suddenly dies.
Try as we might to avoid it, we are all going to experience both kinds of change in life – butterflies and bees. There is no getting around it. And it just may be that suffering the losses we sustain is nothing, compared to the suffering that comes as a result of our attempts to avoid them. We can become so wound up in our efforts to side-step the pain of change that we lose sight of our own wholeheartedness. If life becomes primarily about risk reduction and injury avoidance, we may not ever even get into the game!
So what are we to do? How can we embrace change, finding wholeness even in the midst of brokenness? What hope do we possibly have? Psychologist Brene Brown suggests that the place to start is in recognizing the ordinary state of affairs – the fact that nothing is static or fixed, that everything is in process, and that everything, including ourselves, is always changing, moment to moment. In Brown’s words:
Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the very experiences which make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of light.
Only when we risk the bee sting will we be able to appreciate the brush of butterfly wings. Perhaps this is what the Psalmist is trying to tell us when he writes:
Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.
And the word from Philippi seems to echo that sentiment, telling us to “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” I like the way Eugene Petersen paraphrases the end of this text:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries
into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s
wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s
wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
It is wonderful, when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Home Depot used to have an advertising slogan which went like this: “You can do it! We can help!” Do you remember that? It came out about the time I bought my first home in Eugene, and I believed them. We had a small bathroom in that house with hideous wallpaper. So I thought – “how hard can this be?”; after all, Home Depot said they could help! It was a disaster. And somewhere along the way my children said to me “Mom, you really shouldn’t believe Home Depot”. It turned out I couldn’t do it; and furthermore, they decided the slogan more appropriate for me was not “You can do it”… but rather, “You should call somebody to do it!”
That is what the Scriptures are trying to tell us as well. We don’t have to do it ourselves; we may not be able to do it. And it is always a good idea to call somebody else… to call upon God, to call upon our fellow disciples of Christ when change has gotten us in over our heads, and when we do not know what will happen next. Making friends with change requires a certain trust in God’s presence and power. As someone else once said, making friends with change – whether it is floating like a butterfly or stinging like a bee – requires these four things:
Making friends with change requires an openness to unexpected possibilities.
Nobody knows what the future holds. And the old saying that “When one door closes, another one opens” is probably a little too limited. Look around you and you may find a plethora of doors before you, laid out for you to choose among!
Making friends with change necessitates self-compassion and forgiveness.
When things change, even when they go terribly wrong, you must remember that you are not an idiot or a failure – you are simply a human being, doing your best. Spending time obsessing about “what if” or “if only” or beating yourself up with a lot of “should” is really time wasted.
Making friends with change demands persistent and persuasive optimism.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that any one event, circumstance, or moment defines the future of the Universe. There is always room for another change, and it may be coming just around the corner.
Finally, embracing change means living out a whole-hearted courage.
This is the kind of courage that may leave you quaking in your boots. Only fools are never afraid. Whole-hearted courage knows it is possible to move ahead in spite of our fears and to rejoice, even knowing we are going to fall.
The truth is, you are going to fall. And you will get up again. Because every transformation begins with an ending. While it may not be possible for you to go back and start a new beginning, you can go forward to make a new ending. You can go forward, when you make friends with change. Thanks be to God! Amen.