My Butterfly Effect


I’ve always found the butterfly effect intriguing: the idea that the mere flap of a butterfly’s wing in, say, Des Moines could start a chain reaction leading to a devastating tsunami in Sr Lanka; or, for that matter, to the miraculous circumvention of one.

But it also happens on a personal level. A few nights ago I was talking with a friend Colleen after our writers group meeting. I was in the midst of explaining my current project when Fran approached. Colleen greeted her. I gave Fran a cursory nod, then jerked Colleen’s attention back to mine so I could finish my narrative. I didn’t want to lose my train of thought (which is at the cosmic core of all that matters) by sailing off to the island of Smalltalk, or by pausing to give Fran an abridgment and, once again, risk watching my train of thought leave the station without me. Reasonable, right?

God didn’t think so. At bedtime, he reminded me of the incident.

“So I screwed up, huh?”


According to the personal butterfly effect, my small (if there is such a thing) inconsideracy could be the final blow to Fran’s faith in humanity, leading her to become a cold-blooded killer. Or (less facetiously) to her becoming more jaded, increasing the dearth of tolerance on our compassion-depleted planet. Fran’s graciousness will undoubtedly counter the worst effects of my thoughtlessness. But I’ve learned not to underestimate the nexus of wing flaps.

When I was a self-absorbed teenager (is there any other kind?) I accidentally swang a golf club back and broke my cousin Larry’s nose. Twenty years later, at (ironically) a Thanksgiving dinner, Larry stunned the family by announcing that he had never forgiven me. Not for injuring him, but for so quickly excusing my actions (“I didn’t know you were there!”) instead of showing real concern. This, he said, was why he found it hard to hear about the loving God I so frequently praised. If I was the product of that kind of God, he wanted nothing to do with Him.

Wing flap in Des Moines = Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

The family came to my rescue: “He didn’t mean it!” “It was twenty years ago!” “You were just kids!” “Let it go!”

But God didn’t. He whispered, “Fix this.”

So I begged my cousin’s forgiveness. One long overdue reverse wing flap. Did it help? I don’t know. I remember the way his eyes searched mine for telltale twitches of insincerity. And then the way his eyes softened.

Less than a year later, he passed away. I pray often that he is with the God I so poorly represented. The one who said, “Fix this.”

Philman401-Butterfly-EffectMatthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (or justice).” For the longest time I thought this meant, “Work to restore God’s reign over this shattered world.” And it does. But it also means, “Seek first to let him reign over me.” The second part of the verse reads, “And all these things will be added to you.” The key word is added. The original Greek refers not to rewards for good behavior, but the results of the actions we take.  Wing flaps.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to My Butterfly Effect

  1. jac forsyth says:

    Interesting read. I always figure that it’s the small things that make a difference. We’re all just walking each other home.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Laurie Welch says:

    So much truth here about the way our self-absorption, even if we don’t see it that way (which is the point?), can affect others. I am so glad your cousin spoke to you. I am sure it gave him peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sherrie says:

    Moving personal reflection Mitch. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. VocareMentor says:

    For a long time I’ve strongly believed that the smallest kindnesses or insults can have a large effect on those we encounter (not forgetting the need to get even more engaged in some positive way in the moment). – I really like this post, Mitch. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Roos Ruse says:

    As I began reading I wanted to tease you about reading my mail But then I read on. Your style promotes such delightful diversions. The end was too strong a gut punch to make any fun. I’m deeply sorry for the loss, Mitch. Thanks to God you had the opportunity to make peace with your cousin, Larry. I pray he felt your sincerity and made peace with God. God help us all to be more aware of our butterfly wings. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. RGSherman says:

    I take this as a personal reminder to be mindful in all things. It also points out how people confuse the unenlightened mis-interpreting the word of God with God himself.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. hoveprinting says:

    Yeah, it’s so important to remember that our actions have an effect on somebody, and it’s often not what or whom we could calculate it to be

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wally Fry says:

    That was very powerful

    Liked by 1 person

  9. zoe2600 says:

    I think the butterfly effect very much relates to IS, a single word can kill a hundred people

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Like ripples in a pond…..we can’t know where all our actions lead. You made it right which takes courage and humbleness!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. One of the many things I like about you is the tenderness of your conscience.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. nanciec13 says:

    Thanks for the reminder–great reflection😊

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, sir. This was beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dede says:

    People have become more and more self absorbed. Sometimes just a kind word from a stranger can make the difference between having a good day or finding myself lost in depression. I used to be so good at being kind. Depression made me turn inward but with God’s help I’m slowly turning toward Him. It is amazing how long we can hold onto a hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      To err may, as the expression goes, be human, and to forgive divine. Still, God graciously shares His nature with–and through–those who are broken-but-willing. Nice to connect with you along the way, sister.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Nancy Ruegg says:

    A powerful post, Mitch, and so well written. I agree with Colleen: your tender conscience is a winsome trait; your cousin could not help but notice. (Asking for forgiveness is so rare.) Also appreciated the explanation of “added” from Matthew 6:33. Lord, help me flap my wings more fervently!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. kertsen says:

    The butterfly effect implies predestination , everything moves forward because it is all linked to a shared past. Alter one small thing and the whole edifice falls. Such thinking by the well known atheist Sam Harris led him to the conclusion , which he believes is supported by neuroscience , that free will and the self are illusions. Unfortunately this leads us to conclude no one is responsible for anything a very tricky dead end.


    • mitchteemley says:

      I must be missing something. I don’t see how “the butterfly effect implies predestination” or how “everything moves forward because it is all linked to a shared past.” A car arrives in New York because its driver decided to go to New York. That may as easily be described as an act of freewill as predestination–both are philosophical constructs. The butterfly effect theory is built on the Newtonian principle that for every action there is a reaction, coupled with the observation that small events sometimes indirectly lead to large events.

      Liked by 1 person

      • kertsen says:

        My explanations are rather poor and it is deep subject. Scientists ( I’m not much of one ) use it to show how all things are connected as you describe and small events are just as important as large ones. This is the essence of determinism . Not all scientists agree Professor Penrose believes quantum mechanics plays a part. I try to follow the experts but its not easy stuff. Thank you for your reply.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: My Butterfly Effect – Truth in Palmyra

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