Origami is very exacting work. If a square of paper is folded just so, with meticulous attention to detail, you can get a perfect crane every time. If you follow the rules, the results will always match. And there is great comfort in that, in knowing that success is completely within your control. Many of us have jobs like that-a baker turns out identical pies all day long by following the recipe exactly. An accountant tallies up a client’s expenses to the penny. An engineer draws up the design for a bridge, and knows the math will support his plan perfectly. Much of daily living is like folding origami-if you sweep or clean or paint or build in a certain way, you will get predictable results.

But some of our endeavors are like the formation of a butterfly. They cannot be controlled even by the most sincere of human efforts. A caterpillar will take the time it takes to create its chrysalis, and then the magical transformation begins its own private journey, unhurried and un-directed by observers. Like a rose, you cannot pry open a bud and make it bloom. You cannot control the weather, you cannot control most of what surrounds you.

And you cannot control the results of two undertakings that matter very deeply to you: Parenting and missionary work. These are the butterflies of life, the things that can yield astounding beauty, but which, ultimately, are out of your control. We can set the stage, we can feed the caterpillar and put it in the optimal environment. We can give it our blood, sweat, and tears, but we cannot control the final outcome. Despite following the best instructions available, this is work that cannot be regulated, only encouraged.

Many parents-and missionaries-blame themselves for unsatisfactory results, even after investing their hearts and souls in a worthy goal. Because we’ve been in school, and we’ve seen that hard study can yield an A on a math test, we expect life to unfold like an origami crane. If we do A and B, we can expect C. And it works with so many areas that we forget to allow for free agency, for factors far outside our control.

The example of Noah is a great one. Here is a prophet who spent his entire life preaching repentance to a wicked generation, yet who never converted a single soul outside his immediate family. But did God consider him a failure? God judged Noah’s efforts, not the outcome. And so it is with earnest parents who do their best, yet find their children make unfortunate choices. God will know-and deeply understand-the heartache and disappointment of parents who loved and did their best, yet suffered the sorrow of watching their children choose another path.

Likewise, he feels love and gratitude for those missionaries who work tirelessly and with complete devotion to helping complete strangers come unto Christ, yet whose efforts are rebuffed, ignored, and mocked. He knows the results are out of our hands, just as is the horse led to water, yet which cannot be forced to drink. It’s a tough lesson to remember, because our emotions are so intense, our hopes so very high. And when the butterfly emerges as a moth, or doesn’t emerge at all, we blame ourselves and try to find proof that we could have done something differently to insure success. We need to remember that God never said we had to turn every butterfly into an origami crane-indeed, if we did, imagine the tragedy it would actually be. Free agency, and the dazzling beauty of allowing self determination to God’s creatures, would be stolen and the triumph of a soul exchanged for the regimented prison of Satan’s plan. We’re not supposed to be paper constructions with angles just so. We are meant to fly, and to do so in our own time, and in our own way. Allowing for the choices that can lead to the possibility of flight, with wings that rival the richest jewels, is the only course that can lead to living, breathing butterflies. Folded paper can never approach the majesty of an independent, soaring being, victorious over struggles, blessed with the agency to choose the grandest destiny of all: Freedom to reach our true potential.

Listen to Hilton’s radio advice show at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2pm PST. And be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com. Hilton’s latest three novels, Jungle, Sisters in the Mix, and Pinholes Into Heaven are available at Amazon, www.mormonbooksandauthors.com, and in paperback at Createspace.com.

Her most recent LDS comedy is Funeral Potatoes-The Novel (Covenant Communications), available in LDS bookstores. She currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California