If you live long enough you’ll learn to live with failure, not just small ones, but big ones too, epic failures, the kind with consequences that cost you in ways that cannot be undone.
Most painful are the ones that injure a loved one, cost a trusted relationship, betray who you really are or reject God’s love in pursuit of something less. These are the ones where your closest friends look at you with sympathy (that often feels like pity) because they can’t empathize with the situation you’ve gotten yourself into.
Living with Regret
How do you learn to live with yourself after an epic fail?
Finding an answer that brings life and peace is critical to being able to take the next breath, make that next step forward and begin reconciling the truth that what you did is not the full story of who you are or who God created you to be.
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.
From the Highest High
As consciousness broke with the dawn of a new day the words of warning floated back across his mind, fighting to be heard over the thunderous pain and grief of his best friend’s death. It was more than Peter could bear. Regret and shame rose in swells high enough to leave him gasping for breath.
Was it really only a week ago that he had been on top of the world? For three years he had followed Jesus, much of the time striving to understand the man and his mission. Then came an unforgettable couple of days, and Peter had been at the center of it all.
They were visiting the village of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus began to ask them questions; these were the conversations the disciples relished because of the way Jesus challenged everything they thought they knew about faith and life, things their religious tradition had taught them were the unquestionable laws for living. This time, however, his questions took a different direction:
“What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. (Matthew 16: 13-18, MSG)
A few days later Jesus led Peter and a few others up a secluded mountain trail. When they reached a clearing he stepped away from them, and when he turned around he transformed before their eyes, inexplicably; it was as if sunlight poured from his face. While Peter struggled for words to describe what he had seen, he knew its significance with every fiber of his being: He had seen the face of the living God reflected in Jesus. He was the Christ, the promised Messiah, sent to save them!
To the Lowest Low
Everything changed in an instant with a speed and thoroughness that made Peter and the others question everything they thought they now knew.
Peter had been so scared when the trouble began. The same people who had surrounded Jesus, fascinated by his miracles, now wanted him dead. It seemed inevitable, and Peter was afraid they’d all be swept up in the madness.
His plan was to stay close to see if he’d have an opportunity to intervene. But when people started to recognize him and question if he was one of Jesus’ followers, he’d sworn that he wasn’t, but that hadn’t been his intention. The situation was surreal and going from bad to worse by the second. He was terrified for his life.
But as the cock crowed at the break of dawn his heart shattered into a million pieces. By the light of day he could see his words and choices for what they really were. How could he have done this to someone who had loved him so much; someone he knew in his heart was God? And how could he live with himself?
Love Will Find a Way
As the days dragged by rough, ugly scars formed. Peter returned to fishing and released his dreams of “fishing for men.” He worked hard to ignore his pain and regret. He had believed there was a bigger story unfolding for his life, but he had been wrong, and the cost of his error was to great to even think about.
But then he had seen him; Jesus. He was alive!
Peter struggled to understand how it could be, and how it would change things. What would happen now? Would Jesus return to his ministry a scarred and resurrected king? Peter was taking it day by day, and each moment in Jesus’ presence brought him inexplicable joy…but it did not release that pit in his stomach.
So when they had eaten breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Three times he had failed his Lord, and three times Jesus had allowed him to affirm his love, confirming that his actions were not a true reflection of his heart. Each time Jesus was faithful to redirect him toward his life’s purpose: to shepherd others toward Him.
To Restore A Life of Purpose
What if Peter’s story had ended on the mountain top?
Would he be effective in reaching the suffering, those in the grips of despair, those in most urgent need of good news and a source of hope? Would they find what they needed in his incredible success story?
Peter had received the greatest of blessings, the greatest revelations of truth, and yet he still had suffered an epic fail.
The Lord saw the opportunity to bring good through his brokenness, to use his pain and regret to accomplish His purpose. In his weakness Peter would be made strong.
“You think that’s bad,” Peter could now say, “Wait ’til you hear my story.” God would use his vulnerability to help him build connection with the lost sheep. His story offered a powerful, living testimony to God’s love and His gift of grace to all who call on His name.
“If the Lord can forgive and love a guy like me,” I can hear Peter concluding, “Imagine what He can do for you.”
When our failures are so big that they obscure our view of the right path, Jesus is there beside us, reminding us as many times as we need to hear it that we never can fall out of reach of his loving arms. He can use our brokenness to further our one life’s purpose:
Love one another as I have loved you.
You see, it’s not about you. And it’s not about what you’ve done or haven’t done. God works all things for good, even the worst, most epic failure of your life.
When you invite Jesus into your heart, even in your lowest low, He is faithful to rescue you from despair, to restore you to wholeness and to make you a beautiful new creation. You play an essential role in a greater story than you could ever imagine, a story you can share boldly and joyfully with others so that by His grace:
They may have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.