The cost of following

I have followed Christ for more than 40 years  — sometimes at his side, sometimes in his footsteps, sometimes, frankly, at a safe distance.

We say we’re followers, but on whose terms?

I’ve always loved the conversation that Christ had with Peter when he found him after Peter’s betrayal. We all know the refrain (“Peter, do you love me?”) and Peter squirming with his answer, desperate to move on and get back to his business of jumping out of boats, swinging swords, and pledging himself as the go-to guy for Christ’s mission.

For years I thought those questions were a bit of a challenge or corrective exercise by Christ, forcing Peter to repent of his failure. I am starting to feel it was something very different — actually a very gentle way of Christ wanting Peter to remind himself how much he loved Christ despite this fumble. It seems as if Jesus wasn’t seeking to hear the answer himself so much as he wanted Peter to hear it for himself. 

What happens next is the ball game — and it is a part of the conversation that is so often overlooked. I almost see Jesus putting his hand on Peter’s shoulder as he says, “Peter, the day will come when you will be tied up and carried about where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”

For a guy who prided himself on bringing so much to the deal, even being nicknamed “Rock” by Jesus, being the wingman for Jesus, this had to be unsettling. You mean, even when I’m at my most useless, incapacitated self, you want me to follow? You have some use for me? You mean, I may not have the chance to live out my own dreams?

In our “It’s all about me”-obsessed world, we can get pretty frothed up with notion that life is all about finding your true self and making that the center of your existence. The idea that followership asks from us sacrifice and humility is jarring and inconvenient.

It means we are not just here for ourselves.

Let’s get real — it’s hard to follow. It’s a blow to our ego, our sense of self-determination, our delusion that in following that we are somehow giving up something of our uniqueness.

I’m getting more convinced all the time that the true test of our faith is not getting ourselves filled up with bible knowledge and Christian practices, but in emptying ourselves and following — knowing that on that path we will discover, as Peter did, the true value that God sees in us.