In the Middle of the Mess (Hope for When We Fail)

I could hear it in my daughter’s voice when she called for me – the familiar tone of “uh-oh”. She looked up at me and said, “I was making something for you, but I made a mess. I didn’t mean to spill it…I’m sorry.”

Following her into the kitchen, I saw the problem – glitter, purple and gold, was all over the floor.  She had pulled out the craft supplies within her reach, by herself, without asking for permission. Scissors, glue sticks, and stickers were scattered – sparkles spread over everything.

“I was making this,” she said, and presented me with her artwork – a paper-towel canvas embellished with her name spelled out in glitter-letters. “I’m sorry,” she said again – and I reached down to hug her. I saw her mistakes, yes – but I also saw her intentions. I saw the desire to make something good, something beautiful for me. I saw the love that motivated her actions.

“Thank you for this picture – it is wonderful. I love it. And I forgive you for the mess. You do know that you’re supposed to ask when you want to use all of this stuff. Next time,” I told her, “just ask me so I can help you.”

The smile returned to her face and, putting her masterpiece up, we began to clean up the layer of sticky, sparkly glitter.

***

Sometimes we do this same thing. We want to do good things for God – so we make fast decisions and quick moves, forgetting to ask our Father for direction, forgetting to wait on His help. Situations come up—and we speak our minds to others before we talk to Him.

Sometimes we give in when temptations come around. Sometimes we fail to do something that we know we are supposed to do. Sometimes we make wrong choices.

We make mistakes. We fail. We make messes.

But this does not give us cause to give up. This does not give us permission to stop doing good work. This does not mean we are failures. And it certainly does not change God’s love for us.

***

I think of Peter, his rash foot-in-mouth ways, and see so much hope for us. This fisherman-disciple was a proficient mess-maker…but he was also a man of bold faith, a man chosen and used by God.

We get a glimpse of his heart in Matthew 16, when Jesus asks His disciples – “But who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks up before anyone else can figure out an answer and says this – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

When Jesus responds, it is with blessing and hope for Peter’s future: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This moment must stun and thrill Peter – he is being called into the work of God.

Of course, like most of us, he seems to forget at times that only God has sovereign wisdom and power when it comes to the building of His kingdom. Peter has that beautiful interaction with Jesus and, soon after, the Savior begins to talk about how He must suffer, die, and be raised from the grave. Peter is horrified – he actually took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” Jesus then turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

I flinch, reading these words, because I have been guilty of this so many times…when we can’t understand how God is working, don’t we sometimes jump in and try to ‘fix’ it all ourselves? It’s a matter of learning to trust Him. Peter and I have this in common: a need to listen and truly hear the voice of God, understanding that His plans are higher and better than our own. It is our calling to surrender to Him, even when His purpose is unclear.

Peter goes through this again in John 13, when Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples.

Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

What I love here is the fact that Peter does not run away and hide from the fact that he has made a mistake. He does not let pride silence him. He acknowledges his error and tries again – for he could not bear to be cast aside by his Lord. His heart cries out – take all of me!

***

Peter’s leap of faith and plunge into doubt in Matthew 14 is a familiar story to many of us – the disciples are out in a boat, a rough wind rocking the sea. Jesus walks out into the middle of the sea to meet them – and they do not recognize Him, fear convincing them that the figure walking on water is a ghost.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

This wasn’t Peter’s last bold declaration to be followed by a plummet into fear. Jesus warns him in Luke 22 that he will be tested…Peter proclaims that he is ready to be imprisoned and even to die for Jesus. “Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”

Jesus is arrested (Peter angrily cutting off a man’s ear along the way) and just as He said – Peter denies having any part of Him. Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Can’t you feel the weight of sorrow Peter must have felt? At this most crucial moment – his faith faltered.

But even after this most bitter failure, Peter was loved by Jesus. One of my favorite moments of mercy is displayed in two little words after the resurrection of Christ. The angel gives a message to the women looking for the body of their Lord –

“But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Jesus knew that Peter’s heart was in a mess…and He reached out to him in the middle of it. He was not willing to leave Peter in regret and sorrow, in broken shame.

He goes to him, calling him by his full name each time and – asking not once, not twice, but three times – if Peter loves him. For each regret-filled memory of denial, he was given a chance to say – Yes, I love you.

I believe that Jesus wanted Peter to understand that he was known – mistakes and all – and that he still had a place in building God’s kingdom — Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” Jesus lets Peter know that he will, one day, give up his life for the sake of God’s glory, and then He speaks two familiar words to him – “Follow Me.”

Grace, friends. He gives us more than we can even comprehend, doesn’t He?

Yes, Peter misspoke and mishandled…he made promises he couldn’t keep.

But he also kept trying to fully follow his Lord. He believed, even when others didn’t. He may have lost his footing in that water, but for a glorious moment – he was walking on the waves with Jesus.

Peter was willing to take risks. He was willing to learn from his mistakes. Most importantly – Peter loved the Savior. He did not allow self-condemnation, regret, or fear keep him from that beckoning “Follow Me.”

Instead he acted in obedience, the Holy Spirit transforming him into a man that would preach the gospel and stand up in courage, time and again, for the glory of God.

We get to hear from Peter himself in his letters and he reminds us to make every effort be found blameless, spotless, and at peace with the Lord…but I like to imagine that he had a little smile on his face when he wrote the next line in 2nd Peter 3:15 – bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…for he knew it quite well, the patience of our Lord. He experienced the mercy of God and he was well-versed in grace.

Just as we are.

For didn’t He see when our hearts were a mess? He reached out to us – He came, Himself, into the middle of our need to become our redemption.  He has never been willing to leave us broken and in shame.

If you find yourself in the middle of a mess, confess it and accept the forgiveness that He is willing to give. Satan will try to turn your focus to your failures so that you will not live in the freedom of God’s forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 7 tells us this — For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. There is no more condemnation in Christ, not when He has borne the weight of our guilt.

Our actions do have consequences – the Lord disciplines those He loves, helping us to mature and to become more like Him in this world that needs men and women reflecting His righteousness, His unselfish love. But He remains faithful in love and grace, even in the hard harvests of our lives.

Just as He knew Peter’s heart and had a plan, a purpose for His future – He knows you. When we make mistakes, we do our best to learn from them – asking for His help, for His strength to grow in faith as we answer the same call He gave to Peter – Follow Me. You, too, have a work to do in building His Kingdom.

So don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to step out of the boat. Don’t let pride or worry or what anyone else might think keep you from surrendering all you are to all He is.

We are not defined by our mistakes, but by His mercy.

*****

You know, thinking back to the night glitter took over my kitchen, I just can’t think that it was a coincidence, seeing as I needed this reminder of His grace…as we began to clean, I looked down at the glitter-covered floor and I could see a giant gold heart within the middle of that mess.

And I had to hug my daughter again, a smile on my face.

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5 thoughts on “In the Middle of the Mess (Hope for When We Fail)

  1. Thank you for your words! I have felt God’s tug on my heart for years- telling me to, “step out of the boat.” I did that yesterday by starting my own blog, for the simple purpose of opening up and sharing my faith, and you have been a complete blessing to the end of a very long week!

    1. Hi, Greta! This just absolutely thrills me…I am so excited that you are taking that brave step to do something different and new in obedience to Him. I can’t wait to follow along on your journey! (And thank you so much, by the way, for being a blessing to ME in your response and in sharing my post on your blog…it makes my heart so happy when we can celebrate the Father’s love together!)

      1. Thank you for your words of encouragement! I promise to write more positive posts. I think I had a few rocky moments, however, that’s how we grow! I know I’m preaching to the choir, telling you this!

      2. I just read this comment after I published a new post and (you will understand the irony of this if you have time to read it!) I TOTALLY understand those rocky moments! We all face tough days and, honestly, when we step out to share our faith – like you have decided to do – the enemy wants to discourage us. I think that being honest about what we face can be a good thing…we are here to encourage each other and to say – hey, me too! I know how that feels and I know He delivered me! So we dig in our heels and stand firm in God’s strength because He is with us and He will help us to grow through the trials. I’m with you, sister, and will be praying for you as you continue to speak out about Him! 🙂

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