An Excruciating Sweetness: Lessons from Bees

One gorgeous morning last fall, sitting out on my front porch, I noticed a bee that seemed somehow stranded. He remained in one place for a long while, rhymically moving his abdomen as though trying to recover from some trauma, or perhaps just performing some mysterious biological function.

Finally he made a clumsy attempt to fly away, only to collide with a glass panel of the railing and tumble into a spider’s web, in which he became thoroughly entangled. Very carefully I extracted him, brushing away the sticky strands with the stem of a leaf, whereupon he rose up and bashed against the glass panel a few more times before finally gaining enough loft to clear the railing and go flitting away. I felt very happy for him, and happy with myself for saving his life and setting him free.

And then it hit me:  that is just what Jesus has done for me.

Later it occurred to me how often God has spoken to me through bees. There was the time, for example, when I sat in the living room watching a bee batting itself repeatedly against our porch window. He was madly trying to get at an indoor bouquet of artificial flowers, when just a few feet away were two large window boxes full of genuine blossoms. I was wrestling with some issue at the time—can’t recall what—and that bee’s stubborn obsession with something he could never obtain, which wasn’t even the real thing anyway, spoke to me of my own insistent barking up the wrong tree. A small apian parable.

About ten years ago my friend Chris was going through the break-up of his marriage. One day he noticed, high up under the eaves of his two-story house, quite a lot of activity from small, striped buzzing insects. Unwilling (wisely) to tackle the situation himself, he called in a beekeeper to investigate. It turned out the tiny creatures, having gained access to the narrow space between outer and inner walls, had there established a palatial hive. Moreover the extensive honeycomb structure was chock full of—you guessed it—honey!

When harvested—another task that Chris entrusted to the apiarist— some thirty pounds of pure sweetness came out of that wall. Being wild, the product could not be sold, but Chris and his two daughters enjoyed delicious honey throughout that winter.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Far from experiencing the bee episode as a pest invasion, Chris took it as an opportunity to learn all he could about apiculture. Moreover, he received the experience as a prophetic promise. The thought of all that sweetness hidden in the wall of such an unhappy, broken home spoke to him of a season of goodness and plenty to come. And now, ten years later, Chris is happily remarried, has two additional wonderful daughters, and takes great joy in tending a hive in his backyard.

One of my own earliest memories is of being stung by a bee. I was visiting with a neighbor lady, enjoying one of her freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, when an unbelievable pain exploded in my arm, my brain, my whole body. Despite my kind neighbor’s sorry protests, I ran home screaming, and for years afterwards I associated the excruciating pain of the event with that witch across the street. I never went back for another cookie.

And now I wonder: How many delicious cookies have I missed in life, from mistakenly associating life’s pain with my all-loving heavenly neighbor, God?

(P.S. Want to have your mind blown by how amazing—and endangered—are those precious little makers of honey? Check out Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by York University professor Laurence Packer. A great read!)

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