The Big Mistake
Do you ever have days when memories of all the bad, foolish, and wrong things you’ve ever done flood your head? I have a day like that occasionally. I don’t know what brings those days on; whether it’s feelings of insecurity about something I’m facing, or whether it’s just an occasional hyper-awareness of my human fallibility. But such days are not fun. I might recall an embarrassment from 6th grade, or thoughtless words uttered years ago that hurt another person’s feelings. I might recall a behavior that put another person at risk. I might have a flash of clarity about something I said or did with my children that was not kind or helpful. I might even remember a pet, and wish I’d been more patient and inclusive with an animal that was part of our family. When those “beat-myself-up” days come, I know they will pass and that I need to keep them in the context of my larger life. I also know that when I’ve asked for forgiveness for my known wrongs, from God and others, I need to let them go.
But it’s easy to get hung up in the memory of our mistakes. I’ve known people who were so caught up in the feelings and memory of one particular mistake, that it kept them from moving forward in life. The memory of their “big mistake” had paralyzed them from making progress in their career, their relationships and in their spiritual life with God. Perhaps you’ve known someone like that. Maybe you’ve even experienced this yourself, when the weight of some past sin or wrong decision caused you to feel frozen in time, attached to your guilt and your regret. When we get caught that way, we may wonder, “If I messed up so badly in the past, how can I trust myself to make good decisions moving into the future?” We may even subconsciously hold ourselves back from accomplishments or happiness as a way to punish ourselves for our past sins.
When I think about how regrets over our past words and actions can hold us back, I remember Peter from our New Testament. One of the twelve disciples of Christ, Peter displayed both passion and loyalty, but also foolhardiness and even disloyalty at a time when it mattered most. If anybody could claim to have made “The Big Mistake,” it was surely Peter. When Jesus predicted that his disciples would become deserters upon his arrest, Peter promised, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” (Matthew 26:33) And yet, Peter did. When he was recognized as a companion of Jesus, he denied it. He even swore and cursed, saying, “I do not know the man!” Then he remembered what Jesus said about him, and he “went out and wept bitterly.” That is the reaction of a person who knows he’s made “The Big Mistake.”
But here’s the thing about Peter. Through the love of Jesus, Peter recovered from his Big Mistake. Not only did he recover, but he went on to become one of the most important witnesses for the Gospel of Christ during the early years of the Church. The writer of John’s gospel describes a beautiful episode following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus interrupts the fruitless fishing of several of the disciples who had gathered at the Sea of Tiberias. He provides a bounty of fish for them, and then serves them a meal he’s prepared there on the shore. Then just as Peter had earlier denied Jesus three times, Jesus gives Peter three chances to declare his loyalty and his love. Jesus then says to Peter, “Follow me.”
If you are being held back by the memory of a Big Mistake in your life, you may wonder about your ability and your worthiness to live out the life to which God calls you. While it’s true that the earthly consequences of our mistakes sometimes follow us for the rest of our lives, it is also true that in Jesus Christ we can be free for a future of purpose and of love. Peter knew his mistake, and he regretted it bitterly. But when the opportunity came to declare his love and loyalty to his Savior, he embraced it; “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17) In accepting Jesus’ invitation, Peter got instructions for his future and he moved forward with his life.
The same is true for you, and for me. Regardless of our mistakes – even if we’ve made a Big Mistake – we can respond to Christ’s question of love with “yes” and find our future and our purpose in our Lord.
With prayers for your journey,