As a loveable screw-up, I have a special fondness for St. Peter because he is my constant reminder that God loves not just the worthy but the ordinary. People like me and people like Peter who have high ideals and good intentions but are weak and often fall short of them. And what I love about Catholicism is that the thing that redeems those shortcomings is both the love of Jesus and the grace of repentance, which gives us the faith, hope, and love necessary to try again until we finally stumble into the gates of Heaven.
More to the point, it is St. Peter who gives this post its unusual title. I was talking to a very close friend of mine the other day who is very religious and currently very anxious about the future since this upcoming school year will be her senior year of college. She reminds me exactly of myself during that time of life, wondering what she ought to do and what God wants her to do, struggling with that age-old question: what is the best way to be happy?
I could hear the influence of the general collegiate atmosphere in her voice. The anxiety that demands a plan to attain the ideals of a perfect romantic relationship, lots of friends, and a successful career in order to lead a life full of purpose, meaning, and influence. Throw in my friend’s anxiety of also wanting it to be pleasing to God and it’s easy to see how one could be too overwhelmed to choose anything at all. Being the basically ancient age of 25, I tried to offer her the wisdom that got me through that turbulent time by asking, “how much of yourself do you truly share with God?”
When I was younger and more proudly independent than I am now I had a very similar attitude to God that St. Peter had when he faced the prospect of Jesus the Master humbling Himself to wash his own dirty feet. In the face of Jesus’s offer Peter responds, “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8). It’s such an endearingly human response and it was precisely my attitude the first time I imagined what it would be like to actually receive that offer from Jesus. While I had a relationship with God as a (younger) young adult I admit I held back. I would let God share with me moments of questioning, moments of peace, and moments of success but I would never let Him “wash my feet” if you will. I would place a barrier between the most broken pieces of myself and God, limiting my thinking to surmise that since those were the parts of myself I had trouble loving it would be a real risk offering them to God and expecting Him to love them in the face of His many perfections.
But this is precisely the attitude that has to be overcome if one is ever to have the true peace and true joy that marks an intimate relationship with God because, as you will find out if you finish reading the scripture passage with the washing of the feet, this is precisely the part of yourself that God has to love and serve and heal if you are to make it to Heaven. Jesus literally responds to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you can’t share life with Me” (John 13:8).
As we experience the love behind this humble service we are healed of our human eyes that only love when we see something or someone loveable and we are slowly able to love more like God does. This, I would argue, is a much more effective testament to His glory than preaching with fire, having millions of followers or attaining political or social influence. Those flashy things mimic the glory of the world, they glorify the self or glorify the cause. Yet God is so much bigger than that, so much grander and far-reaching than that. God is infinite and God is love, which means that truly learning to love not only changes the world you live in now but resonates down through eternity.
And if you find yourself scratching your head wondering how this relates to my friend fear not I am about to explain. Before she or anyone else learns their purpose or accomplishes great things for God they will have to learn to humble themselves and accept God’s tender care in the midst of their misery, trusting that His love is enough. To let go of the sweeping perfectionism the world teaches them to hide behind and practice offering themselves to God in each moment no matter what condition they happen to be in, even those moments where they feel utterly repulsive and would opt to be alone.
The world has a way of wanting to steal the present moment which, wherever you are and whatever you happen to be doing, is your direct encounter with the living God where this love is made manifest. Instead, it offers empty distractions, entertainment, and the temptation to always live in unknown projections of the future. However, learning to reject that fear and go beyond the distractions in order to live in the present moment with God truly gives you the peace of never having to worry about the future because you come to realize that no matter what happens you will always have God and God is all you ever really needed.