Have you ever been around someone who just wouldn’t let you do things your own way? You try to do something and of course do it a little “wrong”, but that person just has to sweep in and fix it, even if you were content with your “mistake”? I know that person all too well. In fact, I am that person. I’m pretty good at fixing things; when I see a problem I automatically begin thinking of potential solutions and ways I can fix what’s broken. I’ve learned, this is great with things, but not so great with people.
What do you do when someone you love or care about is racing into a head-on collision? What do you do when someone is about to make a mistake?
My first instinct, of course, is to jump in and be a hero (yes, I am a woman and have a hero complex), but what if that’s not the right answer? When we’re toddlers and learning to walk we “fail” over and over and over again until one day we don’t. It’s the same with, well, everything. If you’ve ever learned how to play an instrument or played a sport, you know what that’s like. You begin with the very basics, which are hard at the beginning and make you want to quit, but after persevering, after failing hundreds of times, you can become proficient. So, why do we expect other aspects of life to be any different?
I wonder how many times Jesus stood back and lovingly watched as the disciples failed at something. These men were sent out many times to towns and cities to heal and minister to people, but I wonder how many of them floundered or tripped over their words. I wonder about their discomfort level and how sweaty their palms were when doing something that was altogether too much for them in their own strength. I wonder how humbling that experience was and how different those men were when they returned.
A great example of a tremendous failure in the Bible is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Throughout the Gospels you can see how Jesus was prepping Peter for this moment, giving him all the tools he needed to respond correctly to the situation. Luke 22: 54-62 records what happened:
Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, “This man was with him!”
He denied it, “Woman, I don’t even know him.”
A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, “You’re one of them.”
But Peter denied it: “Man, I am not.”
About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: “He’s got to have been with him! He’s got ‘Galilean’ written all over him.”
Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.
Jesus wasn’t too far away from Peter when these denials happened. He could’ve, knowing what was going on, jumped out of his chains or knocked down the guards or paused time and gotten to Peter before his first denial even came out of his mouth. Jesus could’ve stopped Peter from making what was likely the worst mistake of his life. But he didn’t. Jesus allowed Peter to deny him three times. Have you ever taken a moment to think about how that made God feel in that moment? His friend, who he spent so much time with, poured into, and showed amazing things, was now denying him, after Jesus was just betrayed by another man he considered to be his friend. Yet, there was no intervention. Peter would have to live with his mistake and utter failure.
But the amazing thing about life is we usually don’t learn things unless we fail. I’m sure that Peter spent the days of Jesus’ torture, death, and resurrection beating himself up, ashamed that he had made such a grave error. Then Jesus rose again and changed everything. John 21 records Jesus’ interaction with the disciples after his death and resurrection.
When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.
Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore—153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.
Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.
Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead. After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”… And then he commanded, “Follow me.”
Jesus allowed Peter to fail but didn’t hold it against him when he did. Instead, Jesus ate a meal with him and encouraged him because he loved Peter. Jesus didn’t need to berate him into a correct theology because Peter had likely done enough criticizing to last a lifetime. Jesus welcomed him back and forgave him, choosing to look at this failure as a teaching opportunity.
Do you know anyone who is walking into a failure or mistake or mess or train wreck? How can you be there for them without trying to be their savior? And what can you do to love them after a mistake has been made?
I believe, by answering questions like these before a failure occurs, we can correctly respond to those around us. It’s my hope and prayer that we can love ourselves and others through their mistakes just as Jesus does.