My first memory of killing something comes from when I was four years old, living in a two-bedroom campus duplex in Arkansas with my family of five.
I don’t remember much about that house except that most of the time my father’s ministerial textbooks filled a small living room desk and my mother’s canning activities accented her cluttered kitchen.
Late one afternoon, I entered the kitchen while my mom napped on the sofa and found a countertop full of upturned jars, sterilized and draining atop a soaking dishcloth. In an instant, I made the decision to grab a quart-size canning jar and run with it to the front yard to hunt critters.
After a short hike into the sprawling campus, I found a recently dug hole about the size of a mixing bowl. Inside that hole, I delighted to see a microcosm of bustling southern critters dining on the crumbs likely left by campus workers eating a lunchtime sandwich. I focused my attention on a speckled butterfly that was fluttering just over the hole, struggling to stay aloft in the humid air.
I don’t know how old you have to be before you realize that the living creatures that surround you don’t assemble exclusively for your benefit, but I’m sure that I had not yet reached that age. To my amazement, this butterfly seemed to answer the summons of my own desire.
It pulsated with the same erratic purpose I often found in my own movements. I was certain this butterfly yearned to live with me, so I opened the jar, crouched over the hole, and with preschool coordination swung at the flickering blue. I missed.
Undeterred, I tried a few more times until I halfway succeeded.
I say, “halfway” because the lip of the jar came down squarely pinning the butterfly’s torso.
Now, with one wing in the jar and the other wing fluttering helplessly, I wanted to let it go so it might live, but it was mine and I needed it to stay with me even as I watched the wings beat slowly to a stop.
The whole effort began in the innocence of childhood, but as my lips quivered under my sniffling nose, I became aware that if I hadn’t tried to own the butterfly, it would have lived out its life in the delight of its shelter.
Today, almost fifty years later, I still struggle with how my own possessiveness and its complicity will often cause me to lose the person or the dream I seek the most.
Truthfully, most of us have the ability to spend many wasted hours trying to own what we cannot possess. Perhaps unintentionally, We use the glass jars of our own making in much the same way we used them as children — to capture beauty.
There are all kinds of glass jars in the world. And while we often use them with the best of intentions, tragically, the results are often the same: we lose what we most desire.
Christian scripture teaches that the only way to really gain yourself is to lose yourself. “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me (God), you’ll find both yourself and me (God.)”
And perhaps in finding yourself, you’ve captured the most beautiful picture of God’s intention there is to possess.