The Lesson of the Missing Queen Bee

In my last post I mentioned how Castine, my five year old, has become the best little beekeeper helper I could ask for. Every time we go into the beehive together, Cas has one big goal in mind: spotting the queen bee. Of course, spotting the queen bee is kind of hard. While she is bigger than the other bees, looking for the queen is literally looking for one bee among tens of thousands. Add to this the fact that the other bees swarm all over her, often covering her up, and you can understand why she’s hard to spot. So, as I have instructed Cas, we don’t need to find the queen every single time. We just look for evidence of the queen. Eggs, larvae, and capped brood cells all demonstrate the presence of a healthy, functioning queen bee.


A few weeks ago, though, those signs weren’t present.


This past April I installed a new package of bees in the hive in my backyard (and one at the church; you can see a video of the install here). In other words, this is a new colony of bees, and I’ve been very happy with the progress they’ve been making. The queen started laying eggs right away, and the hive has been growing and expanding. They looked to be my strongest hive yet.


That’s why it took me by surprise when the strong growth suddenly halted. On what was supposed to be a quick inspection with Cas that turned into a thorough inspection, I noticed that the signs for a healthy, functioning queen bee were diminished. We closed up the hive and waited a week before another inspection confirmed: the hive was without a laying queen. In fact, there were no larvae or capped brood, and I saw no eggs, which meant no baby bees, which meant no new bees were being born, which meant that my hive would be dead in about a month.


Castine asked what we should do, and I gave her my standard answer: don’t panic, wait, and let the bees be bees. Bees know more about how to be bees than we ever will, I told her. Let’s just wait and see what will happen.

What I didn’t tell her was that internally I was panicking. I did not want to wait. I did not want to let the bees be bees. I wanted to fix this problem, now. I called my beekeeping mentor and asked his advice. I sent a message to the local bee supply store asking if they had any queen bees available for purchase. I hopped onto a couple beekeeping forums and explained the situation. I grabbed my books and read.


A good rule of beekeeping is that if you ask ten different beekeepers, you’ll get eleven different answers. So, I ended up with a plethora of answers, a variety of things I could do to intervene with my bees and help them, to rescue them from their fatal queen-less state.


But none of these solutions felt right to me. My intuition kept coming back to what I told Cas: don’t panic, wait, let the bees be bees. Though my brain kept telling me to act, something else kept telling me to wait.


This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again in my life, but still have the need to learn. When things go wrong, when things don’t go the way I want, when things don’t go as expected, my immediate desire is to jump in and fix it, fix it, fix it! I know I’m not alone in this.


I also know I’m not alone in my attempts to fix things making them worse. When I see a problem and jump in to fix it right away, I usually don’t fully understand the situation and what is happening. So when I jump in to fix it right away, I risk undermining the good work already going on, or I misdirect my energy to something that is not a solution, and I waste everyone’s time and resources.


Patience is the virtue that everybody wants, but nobody wants to wait for. In my Sunday school class we always remind each other not to pray for patience, otherwise God is going to give you an opportunity to be patient. Patience is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. But why? Why is patience such a big deal?


Because patience is an act of faith.


When we act without patience, when we jump in to fix things right away, it is because we trust ourselves most of all. Our actions tell the world (and ourselves) that we are the ones in charge, we are the ones in control, and that this world cannot work properly without us.


Obviously there are times when immediate action is required. If my daughter were to fall into the pool I wouldn’t stand there and wait to see what happens. But often the things we label as emergencies aren’t. Often the best thing we can do is trust that God is at work, take a step back and a deep breath, and wait. Before we jump into action we need to discern where God is working, then discern where we can join God in the work (or if God just wants us to sit this one out).


Getting back to my bees: after confirming there wasn’t a laying queen in my colony, I did the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. I didn’t panic. I waited. I let the bees be bees. Know what I found on my next hive inspection? Eggs, larvae and capped brood. That is, signs of a healthy, functioning queen bee. See, bees are equipped by God to be bees. They know what they’re doing. And when an old queen is gone, they know how to raise up a new queen.


Of course, it might not have gone that way. My bees might have failed to raise a new queen. They might have required my intervention, or they might have died out.


But they didn’t.


And in some small way, my faith is made stronger.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s