I admit, in the days following the terrible-no-good-very-bad-half-marathon, I seriously considered giving up running for good. Doubt and fear dampened both my confidence and my longtime love of the sport. I wondered if maybe that terrible race was a sign that after 32 years, my running days were over.
The truth is, it’s hard to begin again after experiencing disappointment or failure. As our mind works overtime, a cacophony of voices chanting a negative refrain, we start to second-guess ourselves. Failure wreaks havoc on our self-confidence and can even leave us questioning our identity or calling.
Last week, as I was considering whether to hang up my running shoes for good, I thought a lot about the disciple Peter.
Peter was all too familiar with failure. He who had so confidently and emphatically proclaimed his love for and loyalty to Jesus had, in the end, profoundly failed his Lord and Savior when he denied knowing him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter’s was, by all accounts, an epic fail.
I can only begin to imagine the depth of Peter’s remorse, disappointment and self-doubt in the aftermath of his failure. I can only begin to imagine how he must have replayed his denial of Jesus over and over in his mind and the impact of that failure not only on his confidence, but also on his understanding of himself and his identity as a disciple of Jesus.
Which is why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the resurrected Jesus repeated his pointed question to Peter not once but three consecutive times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Jesus knew Peter’s confidence had been shattered by his failure. Jesus knew that in order for Peter to begin again, he needed to relearn and re-remember that failure did not define him, nor did it undermine the role God had for him and the person God had called him to be. In repeating, “Yes, you know I love you,” three times out loud to Jesus, Peter was reminded once again of his identity and his role.
In this exchange with Jesus, Peter remembered that his failure, terrible and disappointing though it was, ultimately did not diminish who he was at his core.
I realize it’s a little silly to compare my story of a disappointing race with Peter’s calling as a founding leader of the early Christian church. But the truth is, each of us will fail multiple times in our professions, in our relationships, and in our character over the course of our lives, and there are important lessons to be learned in even the smallest, most ordinary stories, even in the smallest, most ordinary failures.
Last week, seven days after my disappointing finish in the half marathon death march, I slid my feet into my running shoes, double knotted the laces, and stepped out the front door. As I began my slow jog down the street, stretching my stiff legs and breathing in the chilled morning air, I remembered that one failed race does not define me. I remembered that one failed race does not diminish the joy and satisfaction I get from running. I remembered that one failed race does not undermine my future as a runner.
Last week when I stepped out the front door, I remembered that I am a runner. And I began again.