My daughter taught me courage in a high school gym.
Let me explain first, she is a gymnast. Right there, most of you are now saying, “Duh, she did something courageous. She does things on a daily basis I have no intention of ever doing.” Which is true. The only sane adult I’ve ever seen attempt those kinds of moves was my Uncle Jim. But it was the 4th of July, and he was very drunk, and it was NOT a good idea.
Sophomore year, as the defending champion at her high school conference meet, my daughter jumped on the uneven parallel bars to do a routine that should have been fairly, well, routine. But it wasn’t. It ended in a fall and a concussion that left her disoriented, weepy, and in pain for weeks. Maybe that is why it is important to have good quality gym equipment for schools (along with proper training to do such courageous stunts, of course).
That fall haunted her for a year. She relived the feeling every time she even thought about performing that dismount. She hadn’t been able to mentally get past the fear of trying it again.
Fast forward to one year later. Same competition, same apparatus, even harder dismount. I watch her chalking up, and I know she’s afraid. I know she’s remembering. I know she’s thinking, “What if?” What if I fall again? What if I get hurt worse? What if the favorite becomes the failure, again? And I watch her unhesitatingly jump anyway.
At that point, her score didn’t matter. Whether or not she stuck the routine didn’t matter. The most important thing she accomplished all day was simply jumping on the bar.
I think most of us understand the fear of showing up and jumping on when we’ve failed or fallen, or both.
There’s a story of fear in the Bible we can relate to. Remember Peter, the guy who promised to stand by Jesus until the end and then, when the soldiers came, decided that was the end? He swore on a stack of Bibles he didn’t know his Teacher. His was a concussion of betrayal strong enough to rupture all his belief in any hopeful future.
Then Jesus returns, and we read these words. “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died” (Mk 16.7).
Including Peter. Don’t leave Peter out. It’s almost like Jesus specifically tells his friends, “Hey, tell Peter I really want to see him.” I want him to try again. Wait. It’s just like that.
Was the hardest thing Peter ever did to walk on water, or start the church, or face martyrdom? No. The hardest thing Peter ever did was go back to Jesus and face down his fear of rejection and failure. It was to resist the temptation to crawl into a box of anonymity and never try one more scary thing ever. He could have. I might have. The fishing boat probably never looked so good. Peter would have been terrified to try again. He did not want to jump back on that bar.
Holy Week reminds us of Peter’s failure, and it should remind us of ours as well. We do well to contemplate our own betrayals and heartfelt vows we never kept. But it should also remind us that our fears of never being good enough are groundless in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. His willingness-his wanting-ness-to include and embrace Peter offers us the realization that we too are not beyond trying again. We can come to him on our own beach of need and say, “Yes Lord, you know I love you. I want to try again.”
Peter has the guts to jump back on the bar. And a Pentecost sermon to rival all revival meetings happens. Easter is the best reason on earth for trying scary things once again. Starting over. The safety net of a resurrected Lord is there to catch us. Jump.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.