Many people might say they know me—relatives, of course, but a variety of others. Some have known me since childhood, others since college, others in ministry situations, and others in academic settings. For the most part, these people would likely say I’m an extrovert, enjoy being around people, never depressed, a straight shooter. They might even say I’m organized, follow through with assignments, encourage others, and have a positive outlook. However, at times I have seen myself quite differently.
Like the Apostle Peter, in my teen years I had made a decision to be a Christ follower. I was determined to go where He sent me and to allow Him to use me to help others. However, the scripture, Take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall (1 Cor. 10:12), had not yet carved its way into my mind and spirit. Actually, The Message Bible further amplifies this thought: “These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”
Peter was faced with humiliation and disbelief at what was happening, separated from friends, watching the One whom He esteemed to be the Son of God being arrested. He couldn’t comprehend what was happening and ran away from his commitment to follow Jesus till death. In fact, he denied even knowing Him—not just once, but three times. He was angry, felt betrayed, became bitter and resentful. Peter did not intend or plan or expect to fail. Nor did I.
Decades ago, having endured slander against my pastor-husband—false reports due to lack of understanding of who he was and what his goals were—I was forgiving and had no bitterness toward the people involved. I felt I understood their perspective, and even though they were wrong, I forgave and held no offense. Some time afterward, several wrote letters of apology.
Years later, I was dealing with my full-time job, raising my children, caring for my cancer-ridden husband and his physical and emotional pain, and assisting in his pastoral duties. When those closest to me began separating themselves from us, I stood firm fully expecting that the God who delivered from the flood, the fiery furnace, and the lion’s den, would also deliver me. I was believing God would do something miraculous and praying that my husband would be healed and we would grow old together and enjoy life and ministry. But he got worse, and his behavior was sometimes disruptive—no doubt fueled by the invading cancer and the drugs pumped into his body to halt its spread. Again, I agonized yet tried to understand the withdrawal of a number of friends and co-workers as they verbalized their concern with their pastor being ill. Some said, “If only he had enough faith, he would be healed.”
But the day came when I realized that some people were blaming me for not intervening to curb his sometimes erratic behavior. Instead of standing on my confession that Jesus would deliver us both, I became bitter, resentful, angry and downright ugly. I lashed out at those few people who had stood with me before but now distanced themselves. In retaliation, I attempted to expose their shortcomings and failures. Although I didn’t deny Jesus, I did deny His power because I tried to work it out myself in tongue and pen with vengeance–and that’s a recipe for sure failure.
For weeks I walked around feeling the accusing, fiery darts of the enemy. I was spiritually and emotionally paralyzed and don’t remember a lot of details from this time period. However, it was as if I was in a protective bubble while I continued to fulfill my daily responsibilities. Little by little, I was able to regain equilibrium, but just when I felt like I was free, the anger and sting of betrayal–perceived and real–would hit me again.
I don’t recall exactly how long I walked around in this cloud. After issuing apologies and requests for forgiveness, there came a wash of tears of repentance. In my distress, I cried unto the Lord and He heard me (Psa. 120:1). Like Jesus forgave Peter, He forgave me and directed me to strengthen my brothers and sisters (Luke 22:32). Times were still tough, but God who knew my heart directed my steps. I was learning to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble me, corrupting many” (Heb.12:15b). My bitterness had only impaired my own life but, if not cancelled, would also pollute the lives of those around me. Thank God and others for forgiveness and new-found emotional freedom and for those who stood faithfully with us through the long battle.
Finally, after 13 years, my husband was declared cancer-free and the time together that I had dreamed of came to pass—a wonderful summer with a healthy, happy husband. But it was short-lived. There came a quick and consuming reappearance of cancer; and four-months later he was gone to his heavenly home. Cancer took him, but Jesus received Him in 1999.
That time, I was not caught off-guard. I had learned how easy it is to fall into traps of the enemy. Now when I begin to feel bitterness or resentment toward someone, I confess it to the Lord—as often as necessary. I do not ever want to repeat that feeling of sliding into the pit. Yes, I had been sliding, but Jesus rescued me. Like David, He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. (Psa. 40:2, NLT) And as Job said: God rescued me from the grave, and now my life is filled with light (Job 33:28, NLT).
“You may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight! You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate, finding yourself set right with God. You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet, testifying, ‘I messed up my life—and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it. But God stepped in and saved me from certain death. I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’ And believe me, now I aim to take heed when I think I stand, knowing full well how easy it is to be ensnared and fall” (Job 23:26-28 Msg).
To Peter, I say: You followed Jesus closely as one of His inner circle. You promised never to leave Him—yet you denied him under feelings of betrayal and pressure of accusation. Because of your experience, you would have understood my emotional pain and spiritual wavering. When you realized what was happening—and that Jesus had told you it would happen—you came to your senses and went out and cried and cried and cried—tears of repentance. Tears of “how could this have happened to me when I loved Him so” (See Matt. 26:75). Jesus had mercy on you, forgave you and called you to “feed His sheep.”
Peter, the Holy Spirit used this incident in your life to help me out of the pit. Thank you for telling your story. It encouraged me!
UPDATE: Pastor Jamie Wright at Grace Life Church in Culloden, WV, preached an awesome message entitled “Can you smell that?” talking about Peter sitting by the fire after betraying Jesus… but, thank God, there came some time later a time sitting by another fire when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?…Feed my sheep!” No longer did Peter smell the fire of his betrayal, now he smelled the fire of love. You can listen to his message here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KU3cv7h9DFY
I Almost Let Go (Kurt Carr)
I almost let go.
I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore.
My problems had me bound.
Depression weighed me down.
But God held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.
I almost gave up.
I was right at the edge of a breakthrough but couldn’t see it.
The devil thought he had me; but Jesus came and grabbed me,
And He held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.
So I’m here today because God kept me.
I’m alive today, only because of His grace.
Oh, He Kept me, God Kept me, He kept me, So I wouldn’t let go.
(Thank you Talma and MFC choir for introducing me to this powerful song.)
(c) C. Yvonne Karl, The Alabaster Box, 2013, Updated 2016