Think about the Butterfly

Not long ago, at his request, I shared the story of how I came to meet my wife with the priest I go to Confession to regularly. He is really exceptional for me, as he challenges me very hard, and helps me search my heart to see more clearly what drives me to self-destructive behavior, i.e. sin. As I shared various important moments in our relationship, he kept taking me back further and further, all the way back to the time before we met. It was a remarkable journey to take.

We ended up all the way back in October of 1984, to the origin of my decision to leave Massachusetts and go to Florida State University, where I would eventually meet my future wife, Patti Masters. He said, “Why Florida State?” I told him that decision originated in the office of the chief meteorologist at WBZ TV in Boston, Bruce Schwoegler. At the time, I was myopic in my resolve to be everything Jim Cantore became — a TV weatherman.

I went to “spend a day” with Bruce and was starstruck. He was so generous with his time and wisdom, even indulging my obsession with mesoscale convective complexes by answering my many questions. At the end of my day of shadowing, after he had finished the 6 PM newscast, he said, “Well, so the million dollar question is where to go to college for this career. Florida State and UCLA. But I consider FSU’s Meteorology department, with Jim O’Brien there, to be top notch.” And so it was, sunny Florida.

In Florida I would discover myself, my faith, my passion for learning, my wife, my career path.

My Confessor then said to me:

Do you think Bruce had any idea how many lives he had shaped by that one comment? For him, it was probably a throwaway piece of advice that he’s given to dozens of other weather aspirants. Yet, it was his comment that ultimately opened the door to conversion to the faith, meeting your wife, having your children, establishing friendships, a career in the church — endless effects!

Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? It’s a physics theory that says, for example, the strength of a hurricane in the Caribbean is impacted by something as minuscule as the flapping wing of a butterfly months earlier in Panama. Never underestimate the effects your least significant acts of fidelity can have on the future world. For your every new movement, the future is filled with things that never had to be this way.

Remember, just because you don’t see the effects, you’re often tempted to despair and say: “What good is the little I do? No one notices. No one cares. It doesn’t really matter.” But it all does matter. We tend to be so myopic and narrow in our judgment on the value of everything we do. We massively undervalue what God can do with our little nothings entrusted to Him.

Think of life as ecosystem. The interdependence of everything we are about is so staggeringly complex and intricate and delicate that just one decision, one smile, one quiet “whoosh” of a sacrifice — or one harsh word — can change the course of history. For better or for ill. Your secret interior life radiates out into the whole cosmos. Even your most secret thoughts make it easier, or more difficult, for those around you to follow Christ.

Begin each day with a prayer for the Spirit to guide your thoughts, words, actions, that they will set in motion the uncountable goods He wills. Then at the end of every day entrust all to His mercy. Ask Him to forgive failures and bless successes, and untangle knots you have tied up.

On Judgment Day, one of the things we will see, through God’s eyes, is the astonishingly complex web of influence we were part of. We will be allowed to see our role in that web. Imagine seeing that!

I am convinced Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food,” will come to us from people we’ve never met, who were not fed by us directly but by the others we impacted, who in turn fed them. Generations later in the future. Think of that next time you feel your work is insignificant. Given to grace, its impact is without borders.

When God chose Abram and Sarai, He didn’t say, “Look at the ground in front of you and think of today and your next step.” He said, “Look at the stars in the sky and try to count! ‘Countless’ is the size of impact you will have on all of history!” They gave their Yes and, holy cow, look at what’s happened! God said, “Go!”, they went, and 1800 years later, God becomes flesh. And 3800 years later, you. Me. Patti. Your children.

God’s plan is vaster than you could ever imagine, so discount the value of nothing.

Additionally amazing is that a friend, just last week, said to me, “Tom, what you are doing now for your children will fulfill their purpose in your great great grandchildren.”


7 comments on “Think about the Butterfly

  1. melanie statom says:

    Reminded me of Russian theologian Paul Evdokimov’s comment

    ” The seeds deposited in the Bible flower only after many centuries. “

  2. nos the warmer for the move... says:

    Wow to go from wanting to know how it was made to WHO??????? made it …thank you Dr. KNEEL for saying yes… your like the giant oak… that huge oak produces thousands upon thousands of acorns each one with the potential… we are like the birds and the squirrel who feast hungrily on these seeds to sustain not only ourselves but those around us— you were hungry— thank you Thomas dearest for feeding the multitudes with your many GOD given gifts… by the way do you have Mr. Shwoeglers address I would like to send him a thank you note and a box of oak nuts .b r r r r r r r ,good choice thomas , from the frozen wasteland— sorry ” J” , to the warm promised land …

    P.S. thomas were planning a picnic tomorrow how about a quick heads up on the chance of you know what…

    P.B.W.Y.A.and from foggy old England I’m sure L.P. would add M.GOD. B.Y.A.

  3. Victorious Love says:

    “The interdependence of all things is so staggeringly complex and intricate and delicate that just one decision, one smile, one sacrifice or one harsh word can change the course of history. For better or for ill. Even — I’d say especially — your interior life radiates out into the whole cosmos.”

    My heart is taken by the reality of our yes’s and no’s echoing through out eternity. Our Father has the capacity to create such life through us in our yes spoken to the Father’s invitation into Love & through our no spoken to those things that take us from being vulnerable before Him.
    I recall being on retreat and reflecting on the Father waiting with tenderness and bated breath
    for our freely given yes to Him. The beauty of being given our free will and He is the One waiting…waiting with tenderness of ebullient love for us to give Him our tiny selves. What a crazy God to desire us so!
    I imagine in my smallness…. that perhaps new constellations burst forth as the cosmos explodes in His love with every yes He receives from us!

  4. John Koehler says:

    I am new to the party of Dr. Neal’s blog, discovering it after he conducted a mission at Blessed Sacrament. I have been reading past posts to catch up and there is buffet set out that will keep me engaged for a very long time. This post spoke to me as I struggle to to make our holy fathers “year of mercy” a habit more than an act. As I try to keep myself still for thirty minutes in the morning to reflect, pray and open myself to God’s word I find snippets of past times flash before me where the Holy Spirit had led me. An analogy of my findings are that humans (me) tend to think in a linear fashion, i.e.. if I pray for this, then “that” will happen. Whereas His way is infinitely more dimensional. My prayers, life and intentions are interwoven into a host of other fabrics. When I take the time and listen to the Holy Spirit I can see these workings in the past where His will was evident “if only”
    I had been listening…a word from my father, an act of love from my mother, a particular person introduced in my life at just the right moment for the need I had but never knew. These butterfly insights are making me more aware of my words and actions, and are cause for many requests of mercy for my past actions that are far less than stellar and cause me a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment at times to remember. I am blessed to have found these blogs and Dr. Neal, you can add me as one more effect to what your work has produced.

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