For the last couple weeks, I've been sitting with the conversation Peter and Jesus shared on the beach at the very end of John's gospel, in chapter 21.
It's been a long while since I've sat with a passage for such an extended period of time, but I can't seem to move away from it just yet. And the amazing thing is that it just keeps presenting more and more things for me to notice and talk about with Jesus.
Jesus is using this passage to form so much in my life with him right now.
I shared in a previous post that through this passage, Jesus has been speaking to me specific words: What is that to you? You -- follow me. Do you love me more than these?
I have felt such an identification with Peter in this passage.
I have identified with his distraction -- the way he's having a very personal conversation with Jesus about so many intimate things, such as his love for Jesus, his calling in life, and even the way he will end his days, only to look around and notice John is standing there. "What about him, Jesus?" Peter wants to know. "What about him?"
And Jesus says, "Peter, don't worry about him. You -- follow me."
I can relate to that right now. Jesus is asking me to train my eyes on him and him alone, to let go of any other concern, to simply learn to listen and watch and follow Jesus, only Jesus.
I can also relate to the conversation Peter and Jesus share about Peter's calling to be a shepherd. Jesus says to Peter three different times, "Feed my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Feed my sheep."
We learn earlier in John's gospel (in John 10) that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has a flock that he knows by name, and he cares for them diligently. His sheep know his voice, and they follow him where he leads them.
In this passage in John 21, Jesus is charging Peter with a similar role.
I can relate to that, too, as I've had a growing sense for some time now that Jesus has been forming a pastor's heart in me. I don't fully understand what that means just now, but it has led to a shift in where I direct the greatest energy in my daily life.
My mornings, for instance, are my most treasured time with Jesus. I try to guard my mornings from other commitments as much as possible, as that is the time I most desire to spend in the quiet with Jesus. With my tumbler full of coffee, the Scriptures open before me, and Diva usually prowling around or perched nearby, I speak to and learn from Jesus during that time.
And through that daily time together, Jesus is showing me, step by step, how to feed his lambs, how to shepherd his sheep, and how to feed his sheep.
As in tune with that vocation as I have been of late, and as willingly as I have embraced and sought to be obedient to it, I have more recently begun to realize that accepting that calling means letting go of a different dream.
It is the dream of being a writer -- or, rather, a particular kind of writer.
For many, many years in my young adult life, I wanted to be a literary kind of writer. I shaped much of my life around that dream. I took classes, wrote stories and poems, and attempted novels. I read every word I could find by Anne Lamott and endured several years of the gratuitous artistic angst as I began to exercise my voice for the very first time.
Eventually, blogging became a way for me to further embody this writerly life. For the first few years that I blogged, I viewed each post as an opportunity to practice and hone my craft. I sharpened and chiseled each post, seeking to craft them into the just-right form for telling the stories of life that I had to tell. I took the utmost care with every single post and applied all that I knew of great writing to each one.
This was what "being a writer" looked like for me.
But I don't do that anymore. My life as a writer no longer looks like that.
I write a lot. Writing is -- and will be, for a very long time, I suspect -- a significant part of my vocational life. Written words are, in fact, the medium for so much of the pastoral work that God is giving me to do.
But the way I write has changed significantly.
No longer do I take great pains with every single word. No longer do I search for the just-right metaphor or analogy. No longer do I sharpen every post to its most pristine perfection.
Sure, I take care with what I say. I seek to articulate the truth of my heart, and I seek to say that truth in the way my heart is saying it.
But no longer do I labor over each and every word, the way I used to do.
There is a new level of freedom in my writing this way, but there is also -- I've recently come to see -- quite a bit of sadness.
When I come upon other people's words that are fashioned into a thing of beauty, for instance, my heart aches and hurts in an almost physical way. I can remember what was like to write that way. And I can admire their craft for what it is -- admire it immensely, actually -- because their kind of writing is the kind I most enjoy reading.
But it's also the kind of writing I thought I would one day write myself, and that's where the ache is felt.
I've only recently noticed the sadness and the ache. I think this is because I've become more and more in tune with my vocation and calling to be a shepherd. The more I move in that direction, the more I have noticed the ache when encountering a particular kind of beauty found in other people's written words.
And this is where the encounter with Peter and Jesus on the beach in John 21 has presented yet another gift.
Just this morning, I noticed that Peter announced he was going fishing. "I'm going fishing," he told the other disciples. "We're going with you!" they chorused back. And so off they went.
Fishing was what Peter did before he encountered Jesus. It was his livelihood, the thing he knew best how to do.
But once he met Jesus, he left the fishery business behind, following the promise Jesus made that he would learn to become a fisher of men.
Then Jesus died, and Peter's whole world turned upside-down. He had denied the one he said he loved, and he no longer knew what to do with reality. So he went fishing.
I find it interesting that Peter and his friends caught nothing while they were out in their boats. It was only once Jesus told them to throw their nets to the other side of the boat that they caught any fish. And once they came ashore, they found that Jesus had already prepared some fish -- fish they hadn't caught themselves.
And then Jesus took Peter aside and said, "Peter, do you love me more than these?"
When I first read that question, I thought Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the other disciples. But this morning, when I noticed Peter's determination to go fishing, I began to think Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than the fish.
Did he love Jesus more than the thing he had learned how to do so well, before he ever met Jesus? Would he be willing to learn a new vocation? This was a vocation of feeding and tending sheep. What on earth did Peter know about doing that?!
But Peter said yes. And so do I.
I will feed and shepherd your sheep, Jesus, even if it means leaving a particular kind of work -- a particular way of writing -- behind.