What is Life Asking?

Quite often my blog topics come from whatever I happen to be reading. Today, I am faced with several challenging ideas that came out of the three books that comprise my morning read. The one I choose today is Robert C. Leslie’s discussion of Peter in is book Jesus and Logotherapy, a reflection on gospel stories in the light of Viktor Frankl’s teachings on psychotherapy. Because he shared in the mission of Jesus, Peter is one of the characters in my upcoming book, The Memorial of Jesus, I can’t resist sharing Leslie’s portrayal here.

Leslie writes: “Whatever one makes of Peter’s attempts at walking on water, or of his attempted defense of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he is portrayed as a man of quick emotions whose heart is in the right place but whose actions are often inappropriate.” Biblical scholars would agree. Leslie suggests that Peter’s problem was that he lacked a clear sense of mission. Teaching others about Jesus’ Kingdom of God is a mission all of the apostles shared, but Leslie suggests that one needs a personal mission that gives meaning to one’s own life.

Frankl, in talking to a young artist on the verge of a complete schizophrenic break, said to her, “You cannot reconstruct your life without a goal in life, confronting and challenging you…Isn’t there a goal, an artistic assignment beckoning you? Are there not  many things fermenting  in you, unformed artistic works, undrawn drawings waiting for their creation, waiting to be produced by you?
…if you don’t create them, they will remain forever uncreated.”

What Leslie suggests is that Frankl advocates not asking what can be expected from life but, instead, what life expects of man. Frankle wrote while in the concentration camp: “We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and so fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

I hear often from Christians that Peter is their favorite New Testament character because of his apparent failures. One thing you can say about him is that he never let doing the right thing stop him from acting. I can imagine that, as the little mission group went  about Galilee, there were several messes he left for others to clean up. But this did not deter Jesus. He kept Peter in the fold. Peter just needed to learn the difference between finding mission outside himself and finding the mission within him. He needed to ask not what God wants from us but what God asks from Peter. In the end, the post-resurrection Jesus told Peter that God wanted only one thing, “Feed my sheep.”

We know that Peter served as a leader as the unfolding of the Kingdom continued after Jesus left. Leslie brings together Peter’s failures with his successes this way: “Peter discovered that failure was not the last word. Even though he could not undo the act of denial, he could redeem his past by changing himself….Real repentance is indicated by a changed life.”

Leslie goes on to comment on the world we live in to day. “Many in our day are confused by the requirements of success. Taught by our culture that ‘anything worth doing is worth doing well,’ many are easily trapped into the conclusion that the only permissible outcome is a successful one.”

I believe that failure (in the world’s eyes) is simply part of learning like the toddler falling in its attempt to walk. Learning to walk is what all creatures with legs must learn to do. But once one learns, one needs to ask, “What is life asking of me?”