In the little country school that I attended, the students went through a "caterpillar" phase. Almost every child had a shoe box of caterpillars. We fed our "pets" daily and watched them grow and change. I found the cocoon stage intensely interesting. Inside, the caterpillars were snug, warm, and secure—insulated from the world's dangers and ugliness, but also from its beauty and its love. A caterpillar doesn't reach full maturity until it emerges from its cocoon an entirely new creature. As a butterfly it can interact with the world of its Creator and bring joy to many.
Some people seem content to live their lives in a cocoon. They are afraid to allow the Lord to bring about the transformation He has planned. Before the Lord can use us effectively, we must allow Him to change us into the beautiful creatures He has designed us to be. This work of development must begin within our own little cocoons.
It is exciting to think of God's plans to develop and use us in the world. He is waiting, longing to cut away our ugly, hard exteriors and to transform these dormant pupae into creatures of beauty. He wants the sunshine of His love to warm and strengthen our wings to make us ready for flight, ready to radiate joy and happiness. Each transformed creature is uniquely itself with a special work to perform. Each is separate and distinct.
It used to bother me that I did not have the talents I saw in other women, until I finally realized that I didn't have to be like anyone else to be of use to God. I was free to develop, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the gifts He had given me. No one else can be Norma Crabtree, so I want to be the best Norma Crabtree possible—not for my glory but for His.
I can't give you a plan for attaining the ultimate in social development. I don't know your talents. I don't know what plans the Holy Spirit has for you. But I do know that He is more than willing to reveal His glorious plan to you, and to use the gifts He has given you.
Let the Spirit lead
I believe that the church too often tries to take over the work of the Holy Spirit in assigning work to people. It is when the Spirit leads that we find success.
I think of Irene McCary, of Needles, California, and her little fast-food restaurant, and the Bible texts and questions we saw pinned up all over the windows and walls there. Irene could enthrall you for hours with stories of the exciting encounters those texts have led her to. Of her it can be truly said, "She hath done what she could." Last year I had the privilege of listening to Rose Gates tell of her work among the down-and-out of society. My heart was stirred as I recognized the dedication of this humble child of God, blooming where she had been planted.
I think of Rhodie Quisido and wonder how our home church would manage without her helping hand in the kitchen at potlucks and Pathfinder campouts.
Then I think of May Yourish and those she represents. Women who have spent a lifetime faithfully sharing the truths of God's Word with others.
I think, too, of the many faithful women who attend the weekly prayer groups, adding not only their prayers but their support in a very real way. Only eternity will reveal the results of their faithful contribution to God's cause.
"Well," you might say, "that's fine for them. But what can I do? I don't fit into any of those roles. I have so many fears and hang-ups."
So did I. And I still do—fear of people, fear of being misunderstood, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of sinners, fear of the down-and-out (oh, how the Lord has had to deal with me on that one), and fear of cultural differences.
We feel so comfortable with our own little church group, and we are so afraid of being uncomfortable. But God is looking for those who are willing to be uncomfortable, to burst the bonds of their cocoons, and to bridge the gap between the lost and the church. The church, for the most part, has not been willing to receive sinners. Too often we have gathered our religious robes around us and moved down the pew when a prostitute, drug addict, or just an "outsider" sat down near us.
A young mother of four children recently told me of how she had convinced her mother to come to church with her. Almost against her will she came and even decided to attend the church potluck with her. A dear, well-meaning "saint" went up to the mother and said, "You know, our potlucks are only for members. " The mother replied, "My dear, don't worry. I won't eat any of your food," and she didn't. Now a team of horses would not be able to drag that woman back for any spiritual food, either. One haughty look, one cutting word, or a stony silence can counteract months or years of the Holy Spirit's work. It is no wonder that sinners are often not attracted to the church.
We are the church. Today God is looking for bridge builders; people who will reach out with a loving hand and demonstrate in practical ways that the church is a warm, comfortable place for people—no matter how they dress or look. That its members are caring, loving people—people who will unconditionally accept the sinner and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of changing whatever needs to be changed.
Ellen White comments, "His followers are not to feel themselves detached from the perishing world around them. They are a part of the great web of humanity, and Heaven looks upon them as brothers to sinners as well as to saints. The fallen, the erring, and the sinful, Christ's love embraces; and every deed of kindness done to uplift a fallen soul, every act of mercy, is accepted as done to Him." —The Desire of Ages, p. 638.
Mingling with "outsiders"
It came as a great shock to me years ago to discover the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of "outsiders." We are so afraid to "mix" for fear of becoming contaminated by the world, but we have stayed in our cocoons long enough. Do not be afraid to reach out. We are admonished to be the salt of the earth. What use is salt kept locked away in the cupboard? Let us be willing to allow the Spirit to mix us in when and where He will.
In San Jose, California, I joined a group that included women of many religious backgrounds. Early one Sunday morning one of the ladies called and wanted my husband and me to attend church with her family. Our visit was a wonderful, eye-opening, heart-warming experience. We had so much love poured upon us, including several invitations to lunch. I wondered whether Sandy and her husband would receive a similar welcome at one of our gatherings, or would some dear "saint" come up to her, point to her earrings, and say, "My dear, you can't come in here wearing those." Someone did that to a woman I know.
Dear women of the worldwide church of Seventh-day Adventists, within you lies the power, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to change such attitudes. We can do it! We can so love in the power of the Holy Spirit that all the demons of hell will not be able to prevail against us. And let us remember to love the "saints" and pray for a change in their attitudes. No matter what your talent or lack of talent, loving is one thing you can do.
The Lord promises to fill your heart with His love. And that love is able to reach out across the dark unknown, to build bridges, light the way, bring hope, and joy, and peace.
Our son Glenn wrote the words of the following poem after watching two spar rows on the side of the road. He was passing through a very difficult and hurtful period in his life at the time, and he thanked God for the demonstration of love and devotion he saw in two of God's little creatures.
By chance I saw two sparrows while working on a farm,
And it was evident that one of them had come to grievous harm.
Though on approach, surprisingly its friend would not let go,
In spite of danger stayed and sang, putting on a grand old show.
The injured bird on the ground joined the tuneful song,
As if to tell the whole wide world that there was nothing wrong.
So I moved back and all the while they sang their duet sweet;
And all the people passing by never saw the broken wings and feet.
Out in the busy thoroughfares of life, in the cities or in the quiet valleys and villages, there are hurting people. Some are brutally battered and bruised by sin; others are hounded by doubts, despair, discouragement; and still others are wearing masks that cover the anguish of broken hearts, crushed hopes, and faded dreams.
I believe we will have reached the ultimate in our social development if we can kneel beside one of these crushed and hurting ones and, with our arms around them, give them not only the support they need but a new song to sing.
On that final day may it be said of each of us, as was said of Mary so long ago, "She hath done what she could."