There are times when I feel more forgiven than others. Days when my selfishness plunks itself dead centre in my eyeline and relationships. Days when little lies trip off my tongue, lies about things that don’t even matter, lies I tell to cover myself, to make me look and feel better . Days when I fret about things I’m too embarrassed to write. Days when I’m tired and grouchy and mean and don’t care about anything but me and can’t be bothered with life.
I really dislike this person. I’d like to excuse her with hormones or lack of sleep or any number of extenuating circumstances. But I can’t. Because, regardless of blood sugar, this is my natural state. This folks, is me.
If this was one of my friends talking, I’d cut them short. “No -” I’d argue. “You’re better than that. Don’t put yourself down. Don’t listen to such nonsense.” But self-knowledge is different to self-hatred.
So. If this is me, what do I do? Hide her under lipstick and achievements? Shroud her with sarcasm? (Don’t get too close. Don’t look beyond the jokes). But the striving never ends. The achievements aren’t enough and the lipstick wipes off. Plus, it’s lonely, when no-one knows you – and you might never be found.
Maybe I can lose her – in lists. In busyness and routine and rotas and TV. But… what happens when the jobs are done? And when you switch the TV off? What happens at 3am when it’s just you and your brain and the sleeping tablets that aren’t working?
So perhaps the solution has to be as drastic as the problem. Harm her. Separate her from the rest of me, shrink her or cut her or drown her? Like DIY heart surgery. Leaves you bleeding on the operating table… but still unchanged.
Peter knew all about conviction of sin. He’d abandoned the Lord of Glory in His hour of need – rejecting him three times, just hours after swearing undying allegiance in front of all his friends. It was the mother of all failures: public, personal and irreversible – with horrendous consequences. So – how does Peter address his sin? Withdraw to the wilderness to pursue a life of religious devotion – self-flagellation, fasting, penitentiary Psalms – a life of penance? Keep clear of God for a bit – till He forgets what he’s done?
Here’s what actually happens. In John 21:3 Peter says ‘I’m going out to fish.’ But, v4, ‘early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore.’ When Peter realises it’s Jesus, he jumps straight in the water. He races towards Jesus and not away from Him.
So what does Jesus do when faced with His betrayer? On this occasion, He takes Peter back over the old ground. They meet around the same fire which accompanied Peter’s denials. And He makes Peter reaffirm his love three times – matching the three times Peter denied Him (v15-17).
By the third occasion, Peter is feeling hurt. ‘Lord,’ he says, ‘ you know all things; you know that I love you.’ But Jesus goes over the past for a reason. It’s not about burying Peter’s nose in his failures. It’s helping him get beyond those sins. He is redeeming the old – and giving Peter the chance to re-do his mistakes. It’s done in the context of forgiveness and fellowship – and it concludes with Jesus re-instating Peter over a shared meal.
Sometimes Jesus takes us back over old ground in order to move us forwards. But He is for us – completely. And He is committed to bringing us to the place He’s called us to. So when you’ve blown it – run. Run to Him and hear Him say “Come and eat, my friend. I’ll take you back so I can bring you on.”