Failing Peter

In my last post I said Teckla and I had failed Peter in many ways. A couple of people kindly insisted we hadn’t, so I think I should clarify. Some may think this sense of failure is the guilt parents often feel when a child dies. It may be some of that perhaps, but I am not conscious of any feelings of guilt. It is more a feeling of weakness and helplessness. 

Teckla and I hoped that we could live a life so full of God’s Spirit and the goodness that Peter would return to the faith in Jesus he had as a child. For some years Peter did pursue the Jewish faith and studied orthodox Judaism, but he seemed to desert this faith these last two or three years. Yet, he remained vaguely spiritual—if not Christian. We wish the light of Jesus was stronger in us and could have pulled him out of darkness and addiction. Our example and our lived-out faith were not enough.

We also hoped that our faithful, deep, and steadfast love would draw Peter back into the light and love of God. We often hoped that his own love for Ari would give him the strength overcome self-destructive behavior and addiction. Our love, it seems, was not enough to nudge Peter closer to Jesus and further from destruction.

Perhaps we failed to love Peter wisely. We gave him both tough and tender love—but never knew at any moment which kind of love was needed. Because he struggled with Type One diabetes and addictions, we often did not know which kind of love would keep him alive. We stumbled and fumbled around in the darkness, hoping something would help–sometimes only hoping we weren’t making things worse.

Like many Christian parents, we have been alternately encouraged and hammered by Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. One is tempted to conclude that if a child does depart from it, then parents have failed in their training. I have certainly seen many adults return to the faith of their childhood. But if this proverb is true in some absolute sense, we must conclude God failed to adequately train Adam and Eve. Three years of discipleship by Jesus himself was not enough to save Judas. Even Peter, part of Jesus’ inner circle, denied Christ three times. Jesus washed the feet of Judas before the last supper. It seems that love was not enough.

I suspect our failures are the failures of all parents whose children go astray. Love isn’t always enough. Even miracles were not enough for many who saw Jesus in the flesh. The more miracles the Pharisees saw, the more they sought to kill Jesus. Teckla and I are not being flogged by all the “if onlys” and “should ofs”. But we are humbled by our inability to rescue Peter—we are painfully aware of our weaknesses.

When Jesus grieved over Jerusalem, he expressed my heart toward Peter:How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” Every fatherly bone and muscle in me wanted to gather Peter in my arms and present him safely to Jesus. In the face of all my love, gentle persuasion, and communication skills, Peter would not.

However, God has not left me without hope. A few weeks after Peter’s death, my brother Larry called and said that during prayer for our Peter and our family, God put the word “deliverance” into his heart and mind: deliverance for Peter and perhaps for us. Another friend, Cynthia, from Nebraska said that as she prayed, she felt God say, “Peter is okay. He is with me.” I strongly felt that at Peter’s memorial I was to share from Romans 7:34: O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” At his death, Peter’s body was quite literally ravaged by his diabetes and addictions. He was indeed wretched. Pastor John, who began Peter’s memorial, read from the 34th Psalm which includes: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy with joy and their faces shall never be ashamed.” The night before he died, I stood in Peter’s room and prayed a desperate and heart-broken prayer for his salvation and deliverance. I now believe God answered that prayer.

God has assured me that Peter’s death was also his deliverance. I believe at some point Peter turned his heart toward God and cried out for help. My love and my arms were not enough to gather up Peter, but the strong arms of Jesus have lifted Peter up, taken away his shame, and made him radiant.

I still, and always will, grieve his loss. I grieve for all that could have been. I grieve for Ari growing up without his father. But I do not grieve as one without hope. Peter had a tattoo on his foot from The Lord of the Rings: “Not all who wander are lost”. I have been given the hope this is true for Peter.  

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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