With every waning summer, my daughter eagerly gathers school supplies (yet complains that she must actually use them). While my girl organizes her goods, I work alongside, sorting through dusty boxes of my parents’ possessions. She stacks brightly colored notebooks while I finger through crinkled photos and yellowed letters.
My daughter’s collection is new while mine is old, but our feelings are the same. We’re a little sad, nostalgic, and apprehensive about the unknowns ahead of us.
As we enter a season dotted with yellow leaves and school buses, I realize that the cycles of climate are relatively predictable but the seasons of life are sometimes not so.
These new seasons arrive by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before.
Of Jesus’ disciples, I relate especially well with Peter (Who doesn’t, right?) From the first, adventurous moment he followed Jesus, Peter’s circumstances were as up-and-down as his impulsive personality.
As part of Jesus’ inner circle, Peter was eyewitness to glorious moments. He was the passionate leader of the twelve, and in Jesus’ eyes, the “Rock.” Even still, he experienced infamous growing pains, had devastating failings, and earned rebuke from his Master.
Although he had expected the Kingdom to come through uprising and triumph, Peter learned that following Christ is revolutionary in that the last will be first, the meek inherit the earth, and a cross precedes a crown.
Peter must have struggled, as we all do, with “what-ifs,” “if-onlys,” and “what-abouts…” But if we flip between the pages of the Gospels and his epistles (1 & 2 Peter), we discover a man who became firm and faithful.
At first glance, head-strong Peter doesn’t seem the sort to worry with “what ifs …” He sees Jesus walking on the sea; Jesus says, “Come;” and Peter exits the boat. We know, however, that Peter’s faith and feet give way to the water, because he wonders, “What if I heard Him wrong?” “What if He’s not really there?”
In the past two years, I’ve asked the same questions more than I can count. I’ve experienced the strains of caregiving, lost my beloved father, took a new job, traveled on mission, become the mother of a teenager. In better moments, I trust Jesus despite turbulent winds and step forward with him into the mysteries.
But when the waves slap hard, I lose my focus. “What-ifs” take me down. But Jesus, always He is there, saying “It is I; don’t be afraid.” He extends His hand, my lifeline, and pulls me up time and again. And every day I have a choice, like Peter, to look upon what if or what is. What if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the one who says “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The two equations can’t coexist.
Every day I make mistakes, and especially when a new situation stresses me out. Learning to navigate role reversals with an aging parent is tough. When I feel inexperienced and unsure, I beat myself up (as in “if only I hadn’t done this” or “if only I had done that …”)
Whenever I mess up, I have a choice to rehearse my “if-onlys” and stay stuck or to receive mercies with each new day and begin again. After a series of missteps and disgrace, Peter resigned himself to a boatload of regret and a lifetime of fishing (for real fish, not men).
But the risen Jesus walked where sand meets water to seek Peter out, to open a new chapter in this fisherman’s story. And Peter “threw himself into the sea” (again) to meet Jesus at the shore and embrace another chance. When we forgive ourselves, we affirm Jesus’ work on the cross. We remember that we are the receivers, not the achievers. We get to partcipate in His story, and His forgiveness and sufficiency cover us. With hearts saturated with grace, we can humbly move forward.
In Acts 3, we find Peter at the “Beautiful Gate” where he heals a lame beggar. As a crowd gathers, Peter proclaims the Gospel, and many who hear come to faith in Jesus.
In this passage of Scripture, the Greek word for “Beautiful” comes from the root “hora” – meaning the right hour or right season; beautiful in its timing. Peter – emptied of his ego, freed from regret, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit – was finally the right man in the right season to preach at the Beautiful Gate.
“If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name” became the heart’s cry of a transformed man who had once cowered from identification with Christ (1 Peter 4:16).
In one of their final conversations, Jesus gives Peter a startling prophecy that Peter would die as a martyr, apparently by crucifixion (John 21: 18 – 19). But Peter doesn’t even absorb the gravity of the news before he asks about John: “What about this man?” And Jesus’ reply is freeing to anyone who struggles with comparison as I do – “What is that to you? You follow Me.”
Oh, how often I compare myself to people in different, seemingly easier or happier, seasons of life. But Jesus has given me a ministry in this place of life, and although it’s not what I hoped or anticipated, it’s filled with grace. He asks me to simply follow one trusting step at a time, and He produces fruit in due season.
During travels around Albania, friends and I toured a citadel built atop a steep mount. While I took pictures of the sweeping vistas, my friend was drawn to the ancient doors and beautiful gates. Since then, I see a gate as a metaphor for a place in faith where Jesus calls us forward. He doesn’t promise a wide-range view, and sometimes the way ahead is unclear to us. At times it’s painful.
But I’m learning to receive new, perhaps difficult seasons, as hinges that open to deeper dependence upon God. Yes, I occasionally stumble along an untried path, but even my fears and failures are stepping stones along an eternal course. Everything else may fall away, but Jesus is forever. His will prevails. His grace holds fast.
Friends, let us swing wide opportunities to place everything into the hands that opened the gates of heaven for us. Let us believe that God is the master of every season and makes everything – every heartache, regret, and transition – beautiful in His time. One certainty remains. Since Jesus secured our eternal destiny, surely He is trustworthy in every path along the way.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
God has made everything beautiful in its time … and has set eternity in our hearts ~ from Ecclesiastes 3.
“I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).