Updated: Jul 13, 2020
I wrote this some time ago after I spoke at a church service where I came away feeling like I did a really poor job of communicating. I don’t know about any of you, but I struggle with perfectionism and being easily overwhelmed by failure. Those “failures” come from internal standards I set for myself that are often just impossible to measure up to. Way too often, I see life in terms of failure or success (for fans of the Enneagram, I’m a number 3—go figure!) As you can imagine, this kind of thinking leaves little room for true grace.
Years ago, the Lord took me to the story of the restoration of Peter found in John 21. That story left the pages of the Bible and became for me a true lifeline, an experience, an internalized process I choose to enter into again and again…and again and again and again. Putting myself into that story and identifying with Peter has helped me center upon Christ and the restoration He continually offers.
I spoke yesterday about overcoming shame and the crazy thing is, I can’t stop feeling it myself! What on earth do I have to say that will help others if I can’t deal with these thoughts and emotions? I just feel like a failure. A failure as a speaker, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, as a pastor and leader. If I examine every area, I come up short every time. And that’s what I hate, it’s the “coming-up-short,” the imperfection, the not reaching my own standards that drives me insane. After all, isn’t what I expect “reasonable?” It’s not that much to ask of myself to pay better attention to my family and preach an amazing sermon and deal with problems at church in a calm and loving way. Right? All with the power and love of Jesus in my heart. Staying connected to the vine. Don’t lose sight of Him for a minute and all will be well…
I don’t know how true that is really. The reasonableness part. I think you could argue it either way. But all I know is what I feel now and that is a depression and oppression that feels like it comes from every angle. Pressure—pain—sadness over losses—and over and over I feel my failures so much more than I feel God…
When I close my eyes I only have one place really to imagine. A beach where a man is cooking some fish for breakfast on the hot stones. I come to Him, out of breath, dripping wet, wonder and amazement that He is there. He’s still among us. He hasn’t left me, He wants to talk to me, restore me after my failures. Every time I fail, it’s the same thing. The beach, the man, the breakfast. I have nowhere else to go except to this place where He waits for me.
He has piercing eyes and even more piercing questions. “Do you love Me?” Why would He ask that? Why do I have to answer today, in the looming shadow of my failures? What is He after? Can’t He just speak a sweet word to sustain and encourage me, why the question? I do love Him, I do, just so imperfectly. Does He want to remind me of that? Again, to bring up such a personal failure, the greatest one of all, the failure to love Him?
“Do you love Me? Feed my sheep.” He can break me with 7 words, utterly dismantle me inside. Destroy my paper houses and expose my mirages. How can He get to the heart of the issue so simply, deliberately, swiftly? Ok, so--with what shall I feed them, Jesus? With the love I have for You, this ridiculously imperfect thing? Or the love I have for them, which is an even shorter account? How about the love I have for myself, the least of all, only a vial of oil and a measure of flour left, and tomorrow?...Yes we will see what tomorrow brings of that.
I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, so sorry for so many things…and yet I must not be very sorry because they don’t really change, do they? The vicious cycles and ruts and things I cannot escape so easily. I want to turn around, run away, jump back in the sea and swim to my boat and go fishing in peace. Why did I come here in the first place, to be reminded of my failure, to expose such an imperfect love to the whole world?
But I'm not going to do that. We both know it. I can see it His eyes. I can feel it in mine. I just won’t run away. Even in my weakness, I refuse to do such a weak thing. All the courage mustered inside of me is displayed as I stand before Him, puddles on wet sand surrounding me, refusing the escape back to “normal life.” I left it so long ago, left the nets behind, all my life now focused and centered on one thing—following my Messiah, my Lord. Yes, even as a total failure, I can still do that. I can choose to stay here, face Him and not run.
“Do you love Me?” Maybe it’s time to look at that question differently. What if I stopped looking at it in light of my failures but instead in the light of who is asking the question? Who sits before me, who is making this breakfast, interacting with me as if this is any other day on any other beach? None other than the crucified and resurrected Christ! Everything has changed. And yet at the same time—nothing has changed. Both of these dynamics begin to soothe my troubled mind. Somehow, as I reflect, as I shake off the shame, as I silence the voice reminding me of my failures, I can begin to see what He’s after.
“Do you love me?” [You do, by the way.]
“Feed my sheep.” [Now go express that love.]
He really isn’t all that interested in letting me wallow in self-pity and regrets, is He? I see that if I stay on the beach and eat with Him, I’m going to have to let them go. I have to choose to say yes to the restoration He is offering. “Do you love Me?” is not a question for Him, it is a question for me. He already knows the answer. And it is “yes,” unequivocally yes, as totally imperfect as that love is. He would not ask the question without knowing the answer. He would not shame me and bring me to a place of failing yet again. Through the question He actually calls forth the best of me, He brings me into the restoration process. It’s a first step down the road that only He knows how to lead me on.
Do I love Him? Yes, but only because He chose to love me first. In light of that love, and that one alone, I now have something to give.
Restored, my failures fading like water drops into the sand, I sit down to breakfast.