At this point in lockdown, we’re currently scrapping the bottom of the conversation barrel. Today’s topic in the Carter household is, ‘what is our favourite mirror in the house?’ None of us prefer the bathroom mirror, family consensus is that that mirror is mean! I agree, it shows everything: age lines I didn’t know I had, tired eyes and each strand of hair that needs dying. So I try not to use it because I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, and when I say negativity, I erm, mean the truth.
I’m not alone in wanting to see myself only in a certain light. I think most of us have an idea of what we’d like to be like and then feel a bit miffed about the gap between that person and the actual one. So we airbrush our photos hoping we will look 5 years younger or 5lbs lighter. We share moralist memes that we wish we lived up to, shouting ‘this is me, this is me: I’m an environmentalist, I’m kind, I’m funny, I’m brave!’ Or maybe in our conversations we feel the need to mention our job at every opportunity because we want to prove how clever, decent or important we are. If only we could consistently live up to these ideals.
The disciple Peter, seemed to struggle with some discrepancy between his aspirations and reality. He was the disciple that bravely jumped out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus, but then he became frightened and ended up sinking. He promised Jesus that he wasn’t like the other disciples and would never let him down or deny him. He claimed that he would even die for Jesus. Oh how he wanted to be faithful and courageous but he didn’t always quite manage it. After the resurrection we learn about a moment of shame for Peter when he is confronted with his failings.
I was 16 when I first read the Bible stories about the resurrected Jesus and I can still remember being shocked by them. Until then I think my understanding of the resurrection must have come from artwork and I pictured a shiny, post resurrection Jesus hovering above people, saying ‘look at me’. Instead, the writer of John 21 tells us that Jesus returns to the disciples while they are out fishing, he prepares a charcoal fire, calls his friends back to shore and they eat a breakfast of bread and grilled fish. Then they hang out for a bit in Jesus’ 1st Century equivalent of Nandos: eating, connecting and talking. During this time Jesus addresses Peter.
One week earlier Peter had been gathered around a different charcoal fire, the detail is always important in the book of John, we’re meant to make the connection. Around that fire, Peter had denied Jesus three time. Now, Jesus asks him, in a similar setting, three times, ‘do you love me?’ One question for each denial. The third time, Peter is ‘greatly grieved’ as he exclaims ‘you know all things’. Within the story, Jesus is metaphorically holding up a mirror to Peter, one of those awful ones that show reality.
Peter is greatly grieved. It turned out that there was a big gap between all those things he wanted to be and who he actually was. I hate being confronted with my own failings and I imagine Peter felt pretty wretched. A moment of shame, but only a moment because God isn’t in the business of shame. Jesus chooses this time to reinstate Peter and what we actually see is an experience of grace. Jesus takes who Peter is in that moment, his deeply faithful and deeply flawed self and says ‘now Peter, you’re still my disciple and I’ve got a job for you, take care of my people.’
Some people are using this time in isolation for self improvement, which is great, but I think quite a few of us are also feeling a bit inadequate. We know lockdown could be an opportunity to better ourselves but in reality we have been catapulted into a new world with new challenges and sometimes a new sense of inadequacy. My husband has gone from singing in a church band to recording his voice for the Live Stream church service, he tells me that playing this back is ‘brutal’. There’s also a lot of people right now feeling a bit useless, if your biggest skill is human interaction, you’ve just become considerably less valuable to your employer and that of course is if you still have an employer. Some people are missing grandchildren and feeling helpless, unable to aid family members. Others are still working but under new challenging circumstances. For many of us, our ideal self is out the window, like, it’s not even in isolation with us, instead she or he has been replaced with our most stressy self and we don’t need a bathroom mirror to tell us it’s not pretty!
God sees our inconsistencies, that gap between who we think we should be and the actual truth and God fills that gap with his love for us, this is grace. God’s goodness given to each of us, not based on anything we do but based on God’s own nature. God is good, God is love and God’s grace is sufficient even for our most stressy, frustrating, failing selves. Grace doesn’t mean that we are to stop dreaming and striving but it does release us from thinking our worth is dependant on these things. Peter did actually go on to do all the things he promised he would do, but it was God’s grace that enabled him to move out of the mess he had made for himself. This is being a disciple, it isn’t about perfection and always reaching the ideals we or others set, it’s about knowing that we are on a journey that inevitably involves success and failure but we are loved sufficiently in it all.
2 Corinthians 12:9: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.