The seventeen-year cicadas (known as Brood X) are emerging in our area now. For some reason, people seem more weirded out by them this year than any year before. In Georgia, people are calling 911, thinking the sounds they make are alarms going off. Meanwhile, my news feed is inundated with people posting recipes for the critters! And then there’s me. I’m sitting here thinking about how much fun we used to have hanging the shells on our shirts and chasing each other around the playground.
No, not recently. This was about 3 broods ago.
Proverbs 30 tells us there are lessons to be learned from small things. Cicadas are no exception. During the last big brood we had, I was walking home and noticed several small round holes in the ground under the tree in our front yard. It took me a moment to realize that they were cicada holes. Those tiny insects had emerged from their long slumber, leaving holes in the ground, dried shells in the tree, and filling the sky with their music.
We’re a lot like that!
In that brief moment of wonder at the journey of these small creatures, it hit me, “We’re a lot like that.” Moreover, in my mind, I saw a picture of our own spiritual journey played out in front of me through God’s creation.
There comes the point in our lives when we realize that what this world has to offer simply isn’t enough. Cicadas spend most of their lives underground, taking nourishment from a tree root—sometimes for as long as seventeen years! But for them to continue to live, they have to break free from that and find their food somewhere else. It’s just as Jesus told his disciples, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about (John 4:32).” He was speaking about the nourishment of doing the will of God.
To feed on God’s will, you first have to break yourself free from the old system of this world and be willing to step out into something new.
Break Out of Your Shell
I thought about that as I saw the dried cicada shells hanging from the tree bark. The harshness of the summer heat dries those shells out. If the cicadas had remained inside them, they would have died, but they were able to break free.
That has to be the hardest step for both the cicada and the Christian. Paul tells the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).” This world can dry us out spiritually. If we don’t learn how to break free from those old patterns, we’ll never know the full potential that God has built into us.
While I was observing all this, though, it occurred to me that there were many more holes in the ground than cicada shells in the trees. The reality is that some of them didn’t make it. At some point in their journey, they were gobbled up by predators or lacked the strength they needed to come out of their drying shells and complete the transformation. I realized I had seen that in Christians also. Life isn’t safe. Jesus promised that the road is hard and that the world will hate us if we’re his disciples.
Listening to the Song of the Cicadas
It was then, though, that I finally heard them. I couldn’t see the cicadas, but they were there. The song of the cicadas was almost deafening. There, in the cathedral of the trees, the music of these transformed beings filled the sky.
Isaiah 40 has to be one of the most promise-filled chapters of the Bible. It begins in verse 1 with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah’s people had been oppressed, held down, held back, and held in bondage. The sad reality was that much of it was due to their own failure. So in verse 1, Isaiah must remind them that there is a God of all comfort who has not abandoned them.
Continuing through the chapter, Isaiah reminds us that in our weakness, God offers his care. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (verse 11).”
A Wish for Wings
By the end of the chapter, it’s not just the strength he offers but the strength he helps us find within ourselves. Isaiah 40 ends with the words, “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
We begin weak and needing to be carried in his arms, and then we emerge, mounting up with wings; that’s the transformation God promises, much like the transformation of the cicadas I heard in the trees. In their old lives underground, they never made a sound. In those old shells, they were easy prey for predators. And in that old life, they never knew they had wings.