Prayers from the Desert: The One Behind Peter

Prayers from the Desert: The One Behind Peter November 7, 2017

Desert PrayersI am absolutely horrible at remembering scripture references.

A couple weeks ago I was flipping through my Bible, running my finger down tall blocks of Gospel marked up with yellow highlighter and pencil scratches blindly searching for a few verses that I was really hungry to read again but for the life of me couldn’t remember where they were found. I knew there was a place that Jesus had said some things that turned a lot of people off, after which he asked his disciples if they were going to bail on him too.

After perusing most of Matthew and Luke I finally stumbled across it at the end of John chapter 6.

“At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

I read this and I have to confess – I was annoyed. The story didn’t read the way I had remembered it. The way I wanted it to.

For some reason I was sure the disciples had responded with doubt and weariness. Committed, yes, but overwhelmed and a bit confused. But instead I bumped into Peter, ever brash and passionate, boldly confessing the faith that was feeling very anemic in me in that moment.

As I read the verses a couple more times, I found myself slipping under the surface of the story and emerging among the huddled Twelve, standing not directly in front of Jesus but somewhere just behind Peter.

Listen to it again with me.

The murmurs of irritated conversation are fading into the distance as the others trudge away in disappointment. Jesus has turned to face us who are left and his question hangs in the air like the dust stirred by the receding footfalls.

What about you?

And while Peter – just as likely to deny the teacher with a curse word as he is to chop off someone’s ear in defense of him – unflinchingly professes the truth we have all come to believe, I am standing here having a hard time even looking Jesus in the eye.

I feel like I need to sit down on that nearby rock and catch my breath for just a moment. My words are the same as Peter’s, but they are not proclaimed loudly but sighed into the palms of my own hands.

Are you also going to leave?

Dear sweet Jesus, where else am I going to go?

How many years into this are we? Do you remember the day I laid everything down and followed you? I’m still here. I’m still in. I believe and that you are the Holy One of God. But I just need some time to sit.

* * *

This has been a heavy season for me.

We came back from home assignment a bit worn from months of travel, eager to jump back into life and ministry with North Africans, but also overwhelmed at the prospect of not returning to our ruined home in the refugee camp still plagued with instability and violence. Figuring out how to continue translating scripture from a safer city in the region has come with new hope and sincere excitement. We are moving forward and are encouraged about the progress. But the close cousins of new life – grief and disappointment – still skulk in the corners of most days.

And then five days after we returned to this place that I desperately needed to be a source of stability, we were robbed at night in our home.      

The initial kick in the gut of that specific experience has eased, but it ushered in a season that has felt weighted with a nebulous sadness. It was somehow the catalyst for stirring up the waters of my heart and surfacing losses (my own and those of others) that have come with eight years of ministry in North Africa. Losses that I thought had healed but somehow still sting.

I am a pretty open person and am outrageously blessed with good people who walk with me. From a caring husband, Christian counsellor, deeply understanding teammates and close community of godly women, I have no shortage of people to process life with. And I don’t take that for granted for a moment.

What troubles me most about this season is how much I am struggling to speak to the One person with whom I have most often shared the recesses of my soul. The One who has the words that give eternal life.

Despite my hunger for prayer, for the past couple of months I have found myself sitting in silence before God.

It’s not an angry silence, neither is it a sulky one. (I know because I have been guilty of both before.)

This silence is weary, threaded with disappointment. It’s not a choking on words, but an emptiness of them. While my deepest desire is to cry out to God and confess the tides of my soul, the mouth of my head and heart is quiet.

What do you do when you can’t pray?

What do you do when either deeply personal wounds or simply the never-ending assault of stories of children dying in churches, school buses, mosques, oceans, or their mother’s arms make you approach God in silence?

This has been a question rolling around in my life for the past several weeks and one that I want to chew on here for the next several more. My guess is that many of you have had seasons like this already and could speak wisdom into the experience.

And if you haven’t. Don’t worry. At some point, you will.

I’m going to write about some of the things that I have stumbled across in the dim light of this spiritual season. Practices that are gently loosening the edges of my heart that longs to be softened.

From where I sit on this rock, still trying to catch my breath, Jesus is holding my gaze over Peter’s shoulder with patient insistence. The words are barely a whisper for now.

Where else am I going to go? I believe and I know that you are the Holy One of God.

Sometimes that is all we can speak.

Sit with us, Lord, until we can say more.

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