I was actually in the elevator of a hotel a few months ago with my kids and happened to be smack dab in the middle of some of these competitors on their way to an event. I didn’t want to get too close for fear of rubbing off their bronzeness. I was thankful that God had other plans for me but still admired the discipline.
Because of this phase, followed by the triathlete phase, and several more like that, I realize that I craved being strong - or at least appearing strong. Notsomuch any more.
I’ve been intrigued with John 21:18 lately. Commentaries say that it’s about Jesus telling Peter the specific way in which he was going to die, on a cross, upside down, but I think it’s about more than that. I think it’s about how we are actually to live:
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go… Follow me!” - Jesus
This is not talking about the younger Peter as a toddler because Jesus says he dressed himself and went where he wanted. When we do this, we are at least old enough to do so. That is the American way - as in the Burger King, Frank Sinatra way. Clearly, at this point, Peter was old enough to be on his own and go where he wanted. But we all know that often times when we go wherever we want to go, it gets us into trouble. I do this all of the time, but college was a doozy. I even decided to drive my friends on a side road during a blizzard because the highways were shut down. Not a good ending. Richard Rohr also helped me see that when we go our own way, it is actually immaturity. This is the upside down Kingdom that Jesus talks about often.
Jesus then tells Peter, “follow me”. Right before He was crucified, Jesus stretched out his hands, his clothes were changed, and went somewhere He did not want to go. Is this what He wants us to follow?
Mary Jo Leddy, who works with refugees in Canada, said “Renouncing self-will is the most important business of all - if we die before we die, we come to freedom, for the future belongs to those who have nothing left to lose.” This is the death that Jesus was telling Peter he needed to partake in - death to his own ways. Having nothing left to lose makes us brave to do crazy things because we are free.
We can only be lead where we do not want to go when we come to the realization that we are the weaker one. Weakness, Rohr says, is the core freedom of the Gospel itself. It is the glue that holds us to others. When we think we are strong, it repels others. Think about a bodybuilder and a baby. Which one would you like to draw close to? (Maybe this is a bad analogy for some ladies).
When we stretch out our hand and let Jesus take it, we are allowing Him to do with us as He pleases because we know His way is better. When we let Him dress us, we are admitting that we cannot clean ourselves up on our own. When we go places we would rather not go, we are renouncing our own pride, and letting Him show us something that we cannot see. We are usually taken to these places for our safety, for our own growth, or for joy, but we don’t see it until we trust in the unseen first.
Another word for dress that was used in a different translation was “gird” - it means to fasten, secure, equip or prepare. Jesus is telling Peter that when he was young, he did this for himself, but when he is more mature, he will allow another to do this for him.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not be in charge of securing myself. I need something stronger to secure myself to - I don’t want to be the one running the show or going at it alone. I think this is one of the reasons I love sitting in the passenger seat. Romans 8:26 says “the spirit helps us in our weakness” - not our strength! That makes me want to be weak.
Henri Nouwen captures this beautifully in his book, Lifesigns:
“Only when we dare to lay down our protective shields and trust each other enough to confess our shared weakness and need can we live a fruitful life together… The most fruitful life ever lived is the life of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but became as we are (Philippians 2:6-7)… He came as a small child, dependent on the care and protection of others.”
In closing, the best part of John 21 is right after Jesus tells Peter how he was to die - it says, “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (21:19). We glorify God when we give Him our hand willingly and allow the One stronger and wiser than we are to take us places we don’t think we want to go because we trust Him and we know ourselves (we mess up!). When I have a surprise for my kids and tell them just to come with me so I can show them, I am the excited one, and they are the reluctant ones. If only they knew how amazing it would be if they just listened and followed me!