We Must be Willing to Surprise Ourselves

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When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs…”  [Later], Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”                                                                                                              

—John 21:15, 19b

Some people fear snakes. Others eschew tight places. Me?

I don’t do heights. As in, I avoid standing on balconies above the third floor. I don’t ride roller coasters. I harbor no desire to climb trees. When I traveled to Utah’s Zion National Park last year, I made sure my guide Steve knew it, too. After four hours and as many miles, we reached our first stopping point. Although I was content to begin the descent home, Steve popped the question I most feared: “Ready for Angel’s Landing?”

Having read about Angel’s Landing—its 1,500-foot elevation, its narrow path, its ability to cause even the most experienced hikers to retreat—I quickly replied, “Nope. I’m good. I don’t do heights, remember?”

“We haven’t even gotten to the best part!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, well, I don’t do heights.”

“It’s your choice, but I think you just might surprise yourself,” Steve said, shrugging his shoulders.

Although I was certain this was a speech Steve gave to everyone, I couldn’t deny the hunger to test my limits. With no small measure of trepidation and disbelief, I adjusted the straps on my backpack, took a deep breath, and turned toward Angel’s Landing. For what seemed like three hours but was probably no more than 45 minutes, we climbed. It was as treacherous as I feared. I held my breath more than I breathed. And just when I was ready to join the trickle of people turning back, I heard Steve say, “Look up. We’re here.”

It was all I could do not to cry. Steve was right. I had indeed surprised myself: not just in what I saw—a magnificent panorama of land and sky—but in what I did and who I thought I was or wasn’t. Despite the miles and years between us, I thought of the moment when Jesus called Peter into a new way of living and moving and having his being. No longer would he be disciple who denied and failed Jesus; he would be the one to Jesus’s beloved community into the future. In saying yes to God despite what he had known himself to be and do, Peter made space to be surprised by the love of the One who was not done with him.

Sometimes the definitions and safety nets to which we so desperately cling do more harm than good. Sometimes our desire to play it safe keeps us from living into the expansiveness of our identity as beloved of God. Sometimes, we have to say yes to the rustling of the Spirit within, even when it goes against what we’ve always known. Sometimes we must be willing to surprise ourselves.  

— Maria Kane

Photo: Zion National Park, by Maria Kane

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