One of the big challenges in our lives is learning how to respond when things don’t go the way we had hoped. It could be as simple as a recipe not turning out as it should, or as dramatic as a business venture gone wrong. So much pressure is put on students today to perform well, both by themselves but often by well-intentioned parents, that when their marks don’t match their hopes the world can seem to crash around them. How do we deal with what we perceive to be the failures in our lives?
In recent times Ivanhoe Girls Grammar has developed what they call ‘Failure Week’ which is a week-long program of activities to help students learn from their mistakes. It’s a program designed to build emotional resilience. Failure has a huge stigma attached to it, so how we deal with our ‘failures’ and learn from our mistakes can make a huge difference to how we navigate our way through life.
Today in our gospel reading the disciple Peter gets a big kick up the backside. He had just been praised by Jesus and now thinks he knows best and tries to tell Jesus that he’s got it all wrong, and so turn Jesus away from the path he has chosen. It must have felt like a real come-down, a slap in the face in front of all his friends when Jesus sternly tells him to ‘Get behind me Satan!’ Names like that stick in your mind and don’t easily go away. We know that Peter loved Jesus and learnt from this encounter despite the humiliation and pain he felt. But we also know that it was something he had to learn again and again, especially after denying Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s House.
Peter’s story is not unlike what happened to Moses. Moses had grown up in a very privileged position as a prince of Egypt, but was always aware that he was a Hebrew. It was as though he was living in two worlds. As a member of Pharaoh’s household its most likely that he learnt to read and write, but in his early years in the Hebrew camp he would have heard the stories and songs of his people. Often oppressed peoples give voice to their longing for freedom in song, as we know from Negro Spirituals. Moses had everything going for him until in a reckless violent outburst he hit an Egyptian task master just a tad too hard, and found himself on the other end of the law. As a fugitive wanted for murder, Moses ran away into the desert and the further he went the more he shredded his hopes and dreams of liberating in his people from slavery. He coped with his failure by giving up his dreams, lowering his expectations and becoming a leader of sheep not people. It would have been a very hard lesson to learn, and what’s more, it took years. No doubt he made a good shepherd, but God had other plans! The story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush was a very powerful experience of the holy. That awesome encounter turned his life around, just as happened to Peter – also over a fire – where he experienced both a deep sense of forgiveness and at the same time a call to a life of service.
For both Moses and Peter, knowing that God had called and chosen them for a task made a deep impression. The fact that Jesus knew how fickle Peter had been, how he had misunderstood, how he had given in to fear and betrayed Jesus, is also important. Jesus knew that Peter loved him despite everything, and Peter knew that Jesus’ loved him despite his failures and gave him a second chance. The same happened to Moses, and maybe the fact that he resisted God’s call with all his strength shows how much he had learnt from his mistakes. He felt unequal to the task. Maybe that was just what God needed in him, so he would trust in God’s strength not his own.
How have you learnt from your mistakes?