The Butterfly Effect

 By: Andrea Woolley

There is a scientific theory, actually it is a concept of the chaos theory called sensitive dependence on initial conditions. It is a theory that states, “complex natural systems obey rules but are so sensitive that small initial changes can cause unexpected final results, thus giving an impression of randomness.” It is popularly known as the “butterfly effect.” In simple terms, the “butterfly effect” looks at small, seemingly insignificant changes at the beginning that eventually have huge effects.

This is a true scientific theory that is studied. (This is not just some popular science made famous by a movie in the early 2000s.) There are mathematical definitions and equations associated with it, and if you Google it you will find all sorts of diagrams and graphs that support this theory.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to know a lick of science or math to understand what I am talking about.

Have you seen that Liberty Mutual commercial where one person sees someone doing something nice for someone else and then person does something nice for someone else and then that person does something nice for someone else and so on. The “butterfly effect” is kind of like that (but much more scientific). Or perhaps you have seen the movie Pay it Forward. It’s been a while since I have seen this, but the kid in the movie did something for someone and he told that person to “pay it forward.” And that person paid it forward who paid it forward who paid it forward and pretty soon big, significant changes were being made.

I wish we had some big road map that showed God’s plan for our lives. I would love to see how my path intertwines with your path and weaves in and out of paths of my kids at church and their families and crosses the paths of friends and strangers. I imagine that this “road map” would look more like a giant, tangled ball of yarn than anything we could understand. I would love to see how my life, by simple decisions I make, impacts others' lives.

We all know the verse, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

And I would guess that most of us know the background of this passage, but I am not going to assume that. Jeremiah wrote these words to the exiles that would be in captivity for 70 years in Babylon. These words have quite a bit more power when you remember who they were originally written to. If God had a plan for those exiles who have lost their homeland and their way-of-life, a plan for a future with hope at that, then God can have a plan for us.

I have a friend who tells me frequently, “I rarely can recognize the path God is laying out in front of me while I am walking it, but when I look back, I can see the path clearly.”

Think back on your life. Who has influenced your life in seemingly small ways, but now you see the huge effect that person has had on your life? Whose life are you influencing now? It may seem like tiny influential ways right now, but they may have large effects later on.

There is a book The Boy Who Changed the World that I have read to our kids (and the staff) that illustrates this point beautifully. One of the last lines of the story is, "That means every little thing you do matters: what you did  yesterday, what you do today, and what you do tomorrow. God made your life so important that every move you make, every action you take, matters..."

What we do matters. The way we treat people, the way we go about our normal everyday routines, the way we share ourselves and our resources with others...it all matters, and big changes can come from small, seemingly insignificant changes.