Counselling is painful

The process of therapy or coming to a true understanding of ones-self is painful, usually because it involves coming face to face with some stuff that we had been hiding from for many years. Yesterday I was reading John's Gospel chapter 21 where Peter is 'reinstated' by Jesus after Peter had denied that he knew Him. Read the full story of promise and denial here and reinstatement here. The image is a statue overlooking the sea of Galilee where John 21 is set.

I found four key learning points about individual change in this passage:

1. It is painful. Jesus asked Peter three times if he really loved him, and Peter was 'hurt' but this because it reminded him that he had denied Jesus three times just a few days before. We often need to face up and ask for forgiveness of the specifics - it is no good trying to change generalities when there are details to be worked on.
2. It is personal. Peter tried to 'shift the heat' by asking what the deal was with John, the other person there. Jesus reply is that this is none of his business! As Aslan would have said in the Narnia Chronicles, each person is only told their own story. It is easy to draw other people into our wish to change, and whilst they may be to blame for the situation (eg, after a rape), the responsibility to move forward lies with us - we cannot wait for them to get on board for change as this may never happen.
3. It is permanent. This was to be lifelong and Jesus talked about Peter's new mission of feeding sheep and the likelihood of an out of control death. This would not have been possible for the old Peter whose impetuosity had got him into the denial situation in the first place (and many other scrapes in the Gospels). Likewise, it would be irrational for Peter to go back to that old way of being now that change is talking place. The 'old' may be familiar and comfortable, but it is no longer our appropriate home or way of being.
4. It is powerful. The change that came about was just the right thing for Peter. He was told to 'feed my sheep', effectively to start the church! The explosion of Christianity from this time on was begun by the changed Peter. He was also uniquely placed to deliver the message of the Grace and Good News of the Gospel. The chief of sinners who had denied Jesus in his hour of need had been reinstated as the chief shepherd who would feed the sheep with grace and love - not patronisingly, but from a personal experience of forgiveness and of being found when he too was lost. Not "go to the cross - or you are not accepted" but "come to the cross - I have found acceptance here."

As often with these articles, I find myself agreeing with a secular model of therapy up to a point - the first three points are shared and useful parallels can be drawn. The fourth point however is unique to Peter's faith in Jesus as it is Jesus who places him uniquely and powerfully. It's almost as though Peter had been born at exactly the right time... Well, maybe he had, and if he had, this feeling of being wanted is surely the most powerful therapy of all.
Rob Waller, 23/07/2008