What If I Stumble? Thoughts on forgiving ourselves.


Mark 14: 32-42; 66-72

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’


66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ 68But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

In my reading this week, I came across this in Harriet Lerner’s book, Fear and Other uninvited Guests.

She was sitting at the family dinner table, her mother in law posed this question:

“If you left the room, what would be the very worst thing that the rest of us might say about you – the thing that would hurt you the most?”

That kind of reminded me of my college reunion last year.

At the dinner, my friend said that the most common greeting we had for others was, “I think I remember you…”

The one you did not want to hear was, “I REMEMBER YOU!!!”

You probably don’t want to know what they remember.

Then, you leave early.

And Harriet’s mother in law’s question comes to mind…

Why do we feel that way?

Professor Katie Day puts it this way:

Most of us have mental files of cringe-worthy moments of our lives, when we have acted in contradiction to how we see ourselves, or at least how we want others to see us. We can laugh at our embarrassing moments, but we hope that our more egregious displays of imperfection never see the light of day.

How we think about these cringe-worth things, particularly the more egregious, come in an array of feelings.

They look like this.

Embarrassment.

Regret.

Remorse.

Guilt.

Shame.

An range of self-criticism.

It also describes a downward spiral.

It looks like this.

You have done something wrong.

It might be a minor indiscretion, or it might be a major offense.

It might be something harmless.

It might be something that hurt someone.

How do you react?

You are embarrassed.

Your face blushes and everyone laughs.

Later it will become a funny story.

If what you said or did has offended someone, you regret having done it.

You immediately say you are sorry and seek forgiveness.

Maybe you get remorseful.

What you did lingers in your thoughts and you plan how to make sure you don’t do it again.

You learn from it.

Still good.

But then things ,might start to go badly.

You feel guilty.

That lingering thought moves in to your brain and takes root.

You can’t move on.

You relive that event time after time.

You go through the process of regret and remorse all over again.

Again and again and again.

What you did is unforgettable and unforgivable.

I haunts you.

And then there is shame.

Rock bottom.

Shame is not what you think about what you did, it is that you think what you did defines you.

It is who you are.

You can always seek forgiveness for something you did, right?

But how do you seek forgiveness for who you are?

Shame can rob you of self-esteem.

It can make you feel unworthy of joy and love.

If that is who we are, there is no reason to change our behavior.

According to psychotherapist and author Beverly Engel,

Shame is incredibly unhealthy, causing lowered self-esteem (feelings of unworthiness) and behavior that reinforces that self-image. As we are learning more and more, shame can be an extremely debilitating emotion. …

Some have explained the difference between shame and guilt as follows: When we feel guilt we feel badly about something we did or neglected to do. When we feel shame we feel badly about who we are. When we feel guilty we need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes. When we feel shame we need to learn that it is okay to be who we are.

Now you might wonder what that has to do with Peter.

First let’s go back a bit in Mark’s Gospel.

Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah.

Jesus and Peter along with Jesus’ followers have come to Jerusalem.

Jesus entered the city to the adulation of his followers.

8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

I imagine Peter was leading the chant like a drum major.

Jesus spent the week decrying the Temple authorities in front of the Passover crowds in the Temple and teaching his followers the true nature of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus then calls the twelve together for one last Passover meal.

He tells them one of them will betray him.

Jesus tells Peter he will deny him.

Peter says, no way!

“If you die, Jesus, I die with you!”

“That is the kind of man I am, Jesus!”

Which brings us to today’s scripture.

Peter almost immediately stumbles.

First, he falls asleep three times after Jesus asks him to keep watch and pray himself while Jesus prays in Gethsemane.

That might have been a bit embarrassing, I think.

A good story for later.

Jesus even seems to get I.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

After Jesus wakes Peter up the third time, Jesus is arrested and taken to the Palace of Caiaphas to be tried for blasphemy.

Peter flees.

He regrets this and wants to make up for it.

Maybe Jesus will see him and know he did what he said he would so.

His remorse makes him think about what he can do now.

Peter has it!

He follows and actually goes into the courtyard of the Palace.

And then Peter denies he was ever with Jesus.

He then denies he is a disciple of Jesus.

He moves away to be by himself.

He is guilty.

How can his denial be forgiven?

Finally, Peter says something like this:

“Damn it, I swear on Abraham’s beard I don’t even know who this guy Jesus is!”

When Peter realizes his complete and utter failure to Jesus, he weeps.

He weeps uncontrollably, I bet.

He has failed his friend.

Him mentor.

His Messiah.

Epically.

Peter realizes that he, Peter, is not the man he thought he was.

He thought he was loyal and faithful and courageous.

He now believes himself to be disloyal and unfaithful and cowardly.

He is untrustworthy, unforgivable and unlovable.

Peter is ashamed.

In the time it took for a rooster to crow.

From that point on, he felt like he was unworthy of anything good.

It is easy to understand this downward spiral.

Look at what Peter did!

Have you ever felt like that?

Like you have epically failed someone?

Like you have epically failed yourself?

That you are somehow undeserving of good things because of what you did?

That you don’t deserve joy because “you are a bad person”?

That you don’t deserve to be forgiven because you are unforgivable?

But we don’t have to do something as awful as that for us to go from embarrassment to shame, do we.

We can also push ourselves down that scale for the smallest things.

Minor gaffes.

Major offenses.

We fall down that hole for one reason.

We can’t forgive ourselves.

If we can’t forgive ourselves, why would we think anyone forgives us?

Why would we think God forgives us?

We can’t learn from what we did and move on.

Why should we change?

It’s who we are, right?

That is why it’s important to learn how to do forgive ourselves.

As Christians we are taught to forgive because we have been forgiven.

We are also encouraged to seek forgiveness from others.

I have preached sermons and taught classes on forgiveness.

It’s hard to give and seek forgiveness.

But not as hard as forgiving yourself!

Here’s a hypothetical:

A friend confides in you that he has done something embarrassing, something he regrets.

He is remorseful but also guilty because he thinks what he did will not be forgotten or forgiven.

He can’t think of a way to keep from doing it again.

And he is ashamed because it he thinks people think he is a bad person.

What do you do?

You assure them that we all make mistakes.

Nobody’s perfect.

Make amends as best you can.

Learn from it and move on.

That is called compassion.

But we have tremendous difficulty being compassionate to ourselves.

Our self-talk sounds like this:

I must be stupid to make such mistakes!

I must be a bad person for doing such a thing.

I am unforgivable.

I am unlovable.

We need to figure out how to stop that.

All I can offer today is what Peter did.

First, he stuck around.

He did not hide from his community.

He confessed what he did.

We know that because we know the story.

Peter told someone!

Peter then followed Jesus into Galilee.

Mark does not say much about what Jesus and Peter talked about, but John’s Gospel does.

Jesus sends Peter out to be the shepherd of Jesus’ people.

And Peter did.

This is what that looks like.

Peter owned what he did.

Confessed it.

Sought forgiveness.

Learned from it.

Forgave himself.

And moved on.

Sounds simple.

But understand this.

Self-forgiveness is very complicated.

It takes introspection and prayer.

It takes self-education and learning.

It takes community, even if the community is just you and your journal.

Some need counseling.

If you think you need it, get some.

If you want to live the Jesus way, learn to forgive, even forgiving yourself.

Now I am not saying that we use self-forgiveness as a sort of “get out of jail free card”.

We still need to go through the regret and remorse stages.

We need to ask forgiveness and do our best to keep from doing it again.

In some ways this is what we do in our confession time at church.

The silent confession is where you can share these things with God, make a plan on how to keep from doing them again and then as for forgiveness.

And maybe ask for help then in forgiving yourself.

Then we need to forgive ourselves and move on.

That is what Peter did.

He confessed to Jesus.

He realized that he was loyal.

He was faithful.

He was courageous.

He was a disciple of Jesus.

The forgiver of all things.

That is what this week is about.

Understanding that we are forgiven by God.

So we need to forgive ourselves.

That is the Jesus way.

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