Think about the Butterfly

A bit ago, I was sharing with my Confessor the story of how I came to meet my wife. {an aside: he’s a great Confessor, precisely because he asks really good questions and then follows the response with great interest all the way to the end, only to ask more great questions that take me deeper than I sometimes like} As I told him various “freeze frame” moments in our relationship, he kept taking me back further and further — even back to the time before we met. In fact, he had me think all the way back to the origin of my decision to leave Massachusetts and go to Florida State University (where I met Patti). I told him that decision originated in the office of the chief meteorologist at WBZ TV in Boston, Bruce Schwoegler. It was 1984 and I was myopic in my desire to be a weatherman. I went to “spend a day” with him. At the end of my time there, after he finished the 6 PM news, he told me that he highly recommended I consider FSU as it had a top notch Meteorology department. And it was, well, sunny Florida and not New England. From that moment on I worked to prepare myself for that journey south. My Confessor then said to me:

Do you think Bruce had any idea how many lives he had shaped by that one comment that day? 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 your conversion to the faith, meeting your wife, having your children, your friendships, your jobs … Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? It argues that the strength of a hurricane in the Caribbean is influenced by something as tiny as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly weeks earlier in Panama. That’s why we should never underestimate the effects our tiniest acts of fidelity can have on the future world; a future that filled with things that didn’t have to be this way. Just because we can’t see those effects or feel them, we often 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 shallow in our judgment on the value of what we do, on what’s important or what’s not. On what God can do with our little nothings if we entrust them to Him with great love. 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. Your most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it either easier or more difficult for those around you to follow Christ. Every day, begin with a prayer for the Spirit to guide your actions, that they will set in motion the uncountable goods that He wills. And at the end of every day entrust all your past actions to His mercy, asking Him to forgive the failures and bless the successes; and untangle any knots you may have tied up. On Judgment Day one of the things we will see — but then through God’s eyes — is this insanely complex web of impact we were part of. And we will be allowed to see our role in that web. I often think Jesus’ words, “I was hungry and you gave me food,” may come to us from people we’ve never even met. Though they weren’t fed by us directly, they were fed 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. When God chose Abram and Sarai, He didn’t say, “look at the ground in front of you and think of your next step.” He said, “Look at the stars in the sky and try to count! That’s the impact you will have on the world!” Their “yes” came and, holy cow, look at what’s happened. When God asked Abram to “Go!” He was thinking 1800 years in the future to Mary and Joseph and Jesus; or 3800 years later He was thinking of you. God’s plan is vaster than you could ever imagine, so discount the value of nothing.

What was amazing about this is that when I spoke with a friend of mine this last week, she unwittingly said nearly the same thing to me: “Tom, things you are doing now will only 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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