It’s 6:15 P.M. on a Sunday evening and I’m in the last place I’d like to be. The once-familiar fabric chair feels foreign against my thighs as the distant melody of a hymn I’ve known my whole life resounds alien against my eardrums.
My mouth knows the words but my heart no longer seems to know what they mean. After the service ends, as I finish my now cold coffee, I am approached by someone I haven’t seen in a long time.
They ask me the oft asked question in Christian circles- “what do you feel Christ teaching you in this season of your life?”
I pause; now wishing I hadn’t finished my coffee so I could buy myself a few extra seconds with a long swig from the cup.
No verse sticks out in my mind; I have no profound insight from the Divine to share.
An awkward silence fills the air before I share the encapsulation of my faith the last year. “I think” I stutter, “I think I’m learning sometimes the bravest thing one can do is be courageous enough to stay.”
As much as I would like to be Paul - this strong man who had a singular radical experience with the luminous Nazarene and never once looked back - I find myself resonating more deeply with the character of Peter.
I don’t have a life verse - and I feel like the embodiment of Christian cliche to use Biblical metaphor in a blog post - yet I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment.
There’s a passage in John where the Christ is seated amongst His disciples and He says in order to make themselves like Him, they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. If you’ll bear with my brief hermeneutic - contextually, in Jewish culture, this would have been offensive. Not only because of the implied cannibalism, but to eat the flesh and drink the blood of an animal was to make oneself like God. This was, in fact, why the Jews ritualistically offered animals to God Himself - for only He was fit to consume it.
Today, this context makes the passage all the more beautiful because the crux of the Gospel is we become “like” God through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Yet, at the time, these words were baffling - offensive even - to the crowded table for they knew not the full depth, breadth and intention of Christ’s coming to Earth.
This is my layman speculation - somewhere between John 6:67 and 6:68 I envision Peter standing up from the table where he had just broken bread with the Divine. In my mind’s eye I seem him rise and place a calloused right hand on the doorknob of the dusty room where they dined.
A large part of him - perhaps even most of him - wanted to write off his time with this carpenter from Bethlehem as a misguided adventure.
Yet - something in him - perhaps Spirit, power or breath of God - compelled him to stay. It wasn’t because he wanted to stay - in fact, everything inside him wished to leave. And yet, anyway he stayed. Not because he understood, but because he knew this man in sandals had “the words of eternal life.”
What I love most about that story - and what I cling to in this season - is that, through this miraculous, mysterious, cosmic grace - simply staying is enough.
And so I’m learning to show up. Not because I feel like it, or I want to… in spite of the fact the wooden cross behind the pulpit that once defined so much of my existence now appears to be nothing more than Home Depot 2 x 4’s nailed together and bolted to a wall… in a season where communion feels like nothing more than a Ritz cracker swimming in cheap boxed wine.
If life is a camera, wipe the residue of judgment from the lens of your life and stop judging yourself for feeling less than outstanding or adrift from your own Divinity.
I’ve heard it said that sometimes getting off track is essential to our growth. Maybe getting off track means you’ve already left the room. That’s fine too. Peter left the room at least three times.
Even if you believe Scripture is nothing more than metaphor or poetic writing from history, I think there is a profound lesson to be found in the life of Peter the Disciple. Peter - in his doubt, his insecurity, his inability to see the future - represents humanity; he represents me, and I think, regardless of your faith background, he represents you.
I guess, what I’m trying to stay, is it’s brave to stay. It’s courageous; especially when you don’t understand and aren’t sure if - or what - you believe. It’s strong to lean into things you don’t fully understand and sit in your longing instead of attempting to fill it up.
In seasons where it seems like it’s taking too long for what you want, for what you believe, to arrive; better to lean into the ache than abandon the desire.
As I begin 2017, I’m making the conscious choice to stay, to keep going, to keep believing, to keep fighting and hoping… even on the days when I don’t believe; on the days when my hand is on the doorknob and it feels easier to leave the room.
This is pure speculation, but I think Peter stayed in part because the other 11 sitting around the table stayed seated. There was a silent accountability - an invitation to come back to the table - which is why, I’d like to invite you to mine. We need one another to remind us who we are, at least, that's what I think.
Courage dear heart,