Life is cyclical.
Excuse me for stating the obvious, but sometimes it bears repeating. Otherwise, I lose sight of the significance of that fact. I think Solomon said it best:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Nothing new under the sun. I mean, we can point to all the advances and developments that man has accomplished over the course of human history, but at the core of every single one of them are essential questions, dilemmas, or pursuits that never change, no matter the form or function through which they are manifested. And this is just as true for our internal landscape as for the external. We confront realities, realizations, traumas, healing, growth, and changes, and then we appear to move on from each one to the next “new” one only to find out it isn’t all that new—it’s just a deeper version of the same-old-same-old.
There’s no telling what might trigger that realization, but it’s often quite mind-bending to walk through the recall moment, isn’t it? It is for me, at least, because I’m not only having to grapple with the new degree of challenge before me but am also having to mentally and emotionally process how far I’ve come—or not—since the last time the issue at hand required my attention. I see little details I didn’t notice the first time around, pieces suddenly shift and settle into place better than before, relationships and correlations suddenly materialize between the issue at hand and others I thought were unrelated—it’s simultaneously disorienting and centering.
The last six months or so have been a season of recall and revisitation for me, both in ways I have been able to comprehend and in others I can’t seem to condense down out of the nebulous fog. It started with a couple of songs by Christa Wells that created the unintentional effect of reflecting on a year in her family’s life.* Then that reflective mindset turned extremely personal when the She Reads Truth Advent 2016 study plan included reflections on a passage that resonated very loudly with me during their Advent 2014 study plan, which I started just after my emotional breakdown a couple of months before. It was the story of when the priest Zechariah was struck mute for not believing the angel Gabriel’s prophecy that nine months later a very old Zechariah and his aged, barren wife, Elizabeth, would finally have a son (John the Baptist).
Back in 2014, the devo for that passage was one of the very first I ever read from She Reads Truth, and the image of Zechariah emerging from the temple completely mute and struggling to figure out a way to communicate what had happened to him mirrored how I felt inside. That passage wasn’t included in the Advent 2015 study plan, so this was the first time I’d revisited it in almost exactly two years. As I read it, I was immediately transported back to that first time it resonated with me and how I felt in that moment, forcing my mind to contrast just how profoundly God has worked over the last two and a half years.
This time, though, the devotional reading didn’t focus on Zechariah’s muteness. It centered on what happened when his voice was restored: he belted out a beautiful song of prophecy and praise! In the devotional reading that accompanied the scripture passage, guest writer Sharon Hodde Miller said this about how Zechariah responded to the silence God had imposed on him:
“Zechariah could have become bitter. He could have nurtured his pride, he could have rebelled against God, and he probably would have felt justified in doing so. But he didn’t. Instead, Zechariah allowed God to change his heart, transforming him into an entirely different man than he was before.”
As I read it, I realized something profound:
During my muteness, God must have transformed my heart because He restored my voice too!
One would think that should be enough to meditate on for quite some time, but instead, as soon as that realization sank in, my heart and mind immediately jumped to the next question:
The active asking lasted a while, but there weren’t any immediate or obvious answers. And as other life fires required my attention, that question slowly got shifted to the back burner and seemingly forgotten. But not really, because if the heat gets turned up—even just a smidge—a slowly simmering pot will eventually boil over. We might not recognize the contents by the time we’re cleaning it up off of the surfaces of our life, but at its core it’s the same-old-same-old. Remember, there is nothing new under the sun, and what now? is a pretty age-old dilemma.
It’s also one that absolutely no one other than God Himself can answer for me, which creates an intense sense of isolation in the struggle to press on. And sometimes it feels like the absence of answers has the practical effect of silencing my voice all over again . . . which is why I haven’t posted here since November. Even this post has required a great deal of internal wrestling just to attain some small amount of coherence; and if I’m honest, I’m not sure I actually succeeded. All that being said, I’m finding a small measure of comfort in a particular experience that several of Jesus’s disciples had some time during the month between Jesus’s resurrection and initial appearance to them and His ascension back into Heaven.
In John 21:1-11, we are told that one day Peter decided to go fishing, and five of the others decided to join him. So, they headed out on Lake Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee), but after fishing all night they’d caught nothing. As day breaks, a dude appears on the shore and starts shouting at them, asking if they’ve caught anything. Peter answers back that they have not, and the dude tells them to throw their net back into the water on the right side of the boat and they’ll find the fish they seek.
At this point in the story, if you’re at all familiar with the contents of the rest of the gospel accounts, bells are probably ringing in your mind, because this sounds an awful lot like the account of how Jesus called Peter to be a disciple three and a half years earlier—like almost word for word levels of similar! I have a feeling Peter and his buddies were having the same experience, and it’s probably why they responded the way they did:
They did what the dude said without any hesitation.
Almost two thousand years later we know that dude was Jesus, but at that moment they didn’t. He was too far away for them to recognize him, so as far as they were concerned, at this point in the story he’s just a man on the shore and this is just a really intense moment of déjà vu. Well, that is until they throw the net in and all of a sudden have such a massive catch of fish in their net that they cannot physically pull it back into the boat!
Cue the recall moment: John tells Peter, “It’s the Lord!” at which point Peter gets dressed and throws himself into the lake to swim the one hundred meters back to shore while his buddies row the boat back dragging their massive catch in the net behind them. When they get there, they find Jesus sitting on the beach with a lovely little campfire blazing and fish and bread roasting on top of it. And they sit down and have breakfast with their Him, just like the good ole days.
This is such a precious memory for John to share with us for a lot of reasons, but at the same time it is extremely odd. Here’s what I want to know:
Jesus was back from the dead, so why were they fishing?!?! Why weren’t they doing regular old disciple-y stuff like they had before he’d been arrested and murdered?!?!
Now, I’m no Bible scholar, but Scripture tells us that after Jesus arose from the dead and revealed His resurrected self to His disciples, he spent the rest of the next month or so appearing to many other people, which leads me to believe that His disciples spent time away from Him. I imagine that first week after His resurrection was pretty intense because they were gathering information and processing this miracle and its ramification and trying to get their bearings. But I bet you there was a moment while He was away from them when their minds had finally started adjusting to the reality that Jesus was alive and they were looking at each other going, “Well, now what?”
And I bet they didn’t have any answers for that question yet, so Peter, at least, who was a person of action (like me, actually), probably decided there was so much he didn’t know that he just needed to regroup by going back to what he did know: fishing. It would keep his hands busy. Maybe it would even provide a sense of centering in the midst of all the upheaval.
And right there in that moment, Jesus shows up and brings him full circle.
The last time Peter had been in that situation and Jesus had called from the shore for him to cast his net on the other side of the boat, Peter had argued with Him because He hadn’t known yet who Jesus was or why he should listen to Him. But as much flack as we give Peter for being dense and hard-headed, in this moment it is clear to us and, most especially, to Peter that over the last three and a half years he has learned something! And that is displayed in his willingness to listen to the man on the shore even before he knows it’s his Lord.
The first time this scenario had played out in Peter’s life, he bowed his knee to Jesus and Jesus told him He’d transform him into a fisher of men. Now, here is Peter asking himself what now, and a little while later Jesus will recommission him saying, Feed my sheep.
Peter didn’t know what was coming, but he knew what had always been: he was a fisherman at his core. Jesus knew that too! So, He started with it, and then He ended with it.
Like Peter, I am asking God, “What now?” He restored my voice, so what am I supposed to do with it? The other day I was listening to the STORY Podcast (which is produced by STORY Gathering), and the gal being interviewed asked the audience, “If you could wake up tomorrow morning and do whatever you want, with nothing to hold you back, what would it be?” To my utter surprise, my soul suddenly spoke up and answered loud and clear:
“I would write.”
Listen, I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but it seems that just like Peter knew he was a fisherman, something in me knows I’m a writer—which is the most terrifying thing to confess out loud, and even more so in writing! So, just like Peter made the choice to practice what he already knew even while he waited for his questions to be answered, I am trying to figure out a way to do the same. I don’t know what that looks like for me because unlike Peter I have not done this my whole life. It is not a practice I can easily fall back into, as though it were muscle memory for my soul, which is the crux of what I shared in my last post. But it’s about the only thing I know right now, so I guess that’s where I have to start. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus will show up on the shoreline and yell some instructions, and I too will find my net too full to haul back into the boat.
In the meantime, you will find me digging through the words and pages for that campfire communion on the shore.