by Kate Wicker
Every morning my daughters traipse into the kitchen to eagerly check the plastic habitat where several spiky caterpillars are slowly milling around and grazing upon whatever it is that caterpillars eat. (Our home kit came with all the sustenance they would need.)
When we received the little guys in the mail, the directions said we should expect the caterpillars to get bigger every day until they finally make their way to the top of their plastic accommodations, shape themselves into tiny letter “Js, ” and then curl up and harden into chrysalids where the real transformation will take place in secret – hidden from my children’s curious eyes.
At first, I worried those unmoving little things weren’t changing at all and were going to die on us. All I noticed was the alarming ratio of caterpillar frass (AKA poop) to caterpillars. I saw more waste than potential for new life and feared my children’s dreams of butterflies bursting forth from their chrysalises in an effusion of light would soon be shattered.
It didn’t help that a childhood memory of my own haunted me. When I was in second grade, my class was learning about growth and change and kept a glass jar in our classroom that housed a chrysalis. Every morning I waited for a beautiful creature to emerge from the tiny bundle that delicately dangled from its tapered twig. I scribbled a promising portrait of the winged beauty I expected to see in a couple of weeks, but, sadly, that was the only butterfly that ever manifested from the whole experience. The chrysalis eventually dried up into a lifeless lump and tumbled down to the jar bottom.
Fortunately, my 6-year-old is not nearly as jaded as I am and has never had anything but hope for the caterpillars. So every morning and sometimes several times a day she comments on how much bigger the caterpillars are getting.
As for me, it’s taken about 10 days to pass for me to notice a real difference in their size. They are indeed fat now and even moving to the top, assuming their positions and J-shapes. The cumulative change caught my eye, but I missed the incremental changes, the daily transformation.
Which leads me to wonder: Is my child’s observation real – her youthful eyes more keen than my own? Or is it the simple belief that the larvae should be getting be bigger with each passing day that allows her to notice the smallest of change?
Just as seeing the insect’s big changes is easy enough for me so, too, is the beginning of our Lord’s Prayer. We invoke God as our Father. We praise Him. We bless Him.
Then we start asking Him for stuff. This is where it gets a little more tricky for me.
Petitionary prayer might be a popular form of prayer, but it’s also the type of prayer that personally tests me – someone who struggles with her share of cynicism and who seemed to have lost a big chunk of her childlike trust the day that chrysalis dried up. Of course God’s name is hallowed. He’s God for goodness’ sake, but does that really mean He’s going to give me all that I need right now at this very moment? He might be holy, but what can He really do for me?
Ask me these same questions when I have the gift of hindsight, and I’ll realize He was showering me with graces during the good times in my life – and the bad. That time the boy I thought was the one ripped out my heart and ate it (or something melodramatic like that)? Devastation when it happened. Pure thanksgiving now for the husband and children I have. Growing up with a sibling who was an addict? It meant my candy-coated childhood was sometimes made bitter. But it also gave me a whole lot of insight now that I’m a parent and am realizing my children don’t belong to me and have free wills of their own. Let go. Let God. He was teaching me these lessons during the tough moments in my life. He was giving me enough hope to get by and to cling to faith. There was no manna raining down from heaven, but God was nourishing me daily. He was giving me Him. That’s easy to see now, but it was more difficult back then.
It’s like when I’m observing those caterpillars, I might see the big changes, but I’m too often impervious to the daily graces and provisions God blesses me with that are changing me and shaping me from moment to moment.
Maybe this helps explain why asking for daily bread – not just a big loaf at the end of life or even just the sustenance I receive when I celebrate the Eucharist and eat the bread that is Him – is challenging for me.
My children, who live a fairly charmed life, don’t have much of a need for petitionary prayer. They believe the caterpillars will grow and turn into butterflies because that’s what is supposed to happen. Mom will serve them breakfast because that’s what she does every morning. God is good. God is love. Ergo, He will give them all that they need today. No need to worry about tomorrow. His daily provision is enough. It’s as simple as that.
As the Catechism explains, “[Daily] is a pedagogical repetition of ‘this day’ to confirm us in trust ‘without reservation'” (2837).
Earlier the Catechism says, “The trust of children who look to their Father for everything is beautiful. ‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He gives to all the living ‘their food in due season.’ Jesus teaches us this petition, because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good he is, beyond all goodness” (2828).
Now the Catechism does go on to point out that the word “daily” means a lot of other things, too. It’s not just about satisfying our bodily hunger but is related directly to the Bread of Life and reminds us that the Eucharist is not only a foretaste of the kingdom to come but something to be celebrated daily, if possible. Yet, for me the most poignant meaning of the word is the filial trust it demands – to keep asking and believing every single day even when our human eyes don’t see the transformation, the answered prayers, the changes, the gifts of bread.
Rote prayers are meant to speak to our personal souls, and this is really what the word “daily” seems to be asking of me: To believe in the grace of God. To believe He will sustain all of us and give us all that we need on a daily basis – not just at the end of time, not just at the Eucharistic banquet. To trust that just as I fill my children’s cups every day, God will fill me up, too.
Yet, “daily” reminds me, too, that I must not live as if I have no taste for His daily bread and think that I have everything I need and don’t need to depend on God. And if I don’t feel like my needs are being met, I must resist the temptation in assuming it’s my fault (or someone else’s) and/or that I can fix it all on my own.
“Daily” asks me to place a childlike confidence in God that He will make up for both my temporal and spiritual insufficiencies.
Finally, it invites me to believe – just as my children believe in the power of metamorphosis – not only in the gift of daily manna but in my own day-after-day transformation, in my becoming, slowly, slowly more like Him.
Kate Wicker is a mom of three little ones with one on the way, a blogger extraordinaire, and author of the upcoming book Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body (which I hear has an AMAZING foreword…cough-cough).
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