“Falling is inevitable- staying down is optional.” (Carrie Johnson)
Children seem to understand this truth. They take their first tentative steps, holding on at first, then eventually letting go to venture out on their own. For a moment they are doing it- they are walking! Success! But the triumph is short-lived as they begin to wobble, and sooner or later they fall to the ground.
It’s part of learning. No-one expects that a child will walk perfectly first time. No-one is disappointed in the child or berates them for falling to the ground. The child doesn’t think “I tried walking and I can’t do it. I guess it’s just not for me. I’ll have to stick to crawling.”
They get up and they try again. There may be pain and there may be tears, but after some comfort and encouragement they are ready to give it another shot. It won’t be the last time they fall. They will probably fall many times, but they get back up and they keep learning and eventually they get it.
Jesus held children up as an example for us and there is a lot we can learn from their attitude here.
As we learn to walk with Jesus, falling is an inevitable part of that too. I don’t always like to accept that. I don’t want to fall- it’s painful and I don’t want to make a fool of myself or for others to see me fail. But if we want to learn and grow it is inevitable.
When we fall, it can be easy to beat ourselves up, to give in to shame and disappointment, to become discouraged and to feel like giving up.
But when I feel like this, the story of Peter always encourages me. He was someone who passionately followed Jesus, who showed tremendous faith on some occasions, but who was also weak and flawed, and who fell several times. He was real and he was human, and despite his faults and and failings, he got to play an important part in God’s plan.
Just looking at one example from Peter’s life- the story of him walking on water found in Matthew 14:22-33– I think there are several things we can learn about falling:
Falling doesn’t mean we have no faith. Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water, obeying Jesus’ command. He showed amazing faith to do that in the middle of a raging storm, he was the only one of the disciples who was willing, and for a moment he achieved something great: he walked on the water because he trusted Jesus. But then doubt and distraction kicked in, his attention was drawn to the wind and the waves and he began to fall. Does that mean his faith wasn’t real? No, it is the reality of being human- we can display great faith one moment and a moment later we can fall.
Jesus is there to pick us up. As Peter sank beneath the waves, Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him and helped him back into the boat. He didn’t let him drown but he pulled him back to safety. He never condemns us when we fall either and he never abandons us. He doesn’t want us to stay down; he wants to help us get back up and try again.
We need God’s grace. Peter was helpless to save himself as the waves overpowered him. He needed Jesus to step in and save him. When we fall we can’t just pick ourselves up by being good or trying harder. We need God’s help, and when we call on him he gives it freely. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” (Psalm 40:1-2)
God can work good from our experiences of falling as they can teach us and others. As Jesus and Peter climbed back into the boat, the disciples worshipped Jesus, declaring, “You really are the Son of God.” They had seen his power and his grace and it had given them faith and a clearer understanding of who Jesus was. There are always lessons to be learned from the times when we fall. Learning how weak we are reminds us of our need for God. God’s response when we fall teaches us of his grace and forgiveness. Through our own experiences of falling we learn compassion to help others when they fall.
I need to learn from children- to stop looking at falling as a disaster and to start seeing it as a normal part of learning and growing- and I need to learn from Peter and let my first response when I fall be the same as his- “Save me, Lord”. I need to get back up and keep going- to allow God to gently help me up and put me back on my feet, no matter how many times I fall.