When my wife insisted that I accompany her to the gym I thought it was a good idea. She had been pressing me about it for some time, and combined with my recent lipid readings I finally relented and agreed to go. When she informed me that we must rise at 4:30 in the morning and that we would be participating in a cardiac spinning class I didn’t even blink. I love the early morning, and I’ve spent hours on a bicycle with a couple of century rides in my repertoire. Spinning class? Why didn’t you say that’s where we were going? How hard could it actually be? I strolled into the gym, my cycling shorts barely able to contain my bravado.
The class was led by an attractive, lean, athletic woman with the body fat of a celery stick. She casually introduced herself and set me up on my bike. She made small talk with others about work and children and seemed harmless enough. When the class began…everything changed.
Buoyed by the thumping and deafening music, celery girl was transformed into a whirling dervish of torment. Gone were the casual demeanor and the early morning chitchat. These were replaced by a pedaling cadence that would have caused a juiced pro cyclist cringe, and the throating barking of orders. Oh how she bellowed and screamed at the class. I screamed too; in agony. I kept up appearances for a while. My pride would allow nothing else. But ultimately I was reduced to a trembling, light-headed heap with what felt like burning razor blades in my lungs. The instructor and her little group of cycling fascists, including my wife, disappeared over the spinning horizon. I was in over my head, and I finally admitted it.
The night before my cardiac adventure/disaster I had read the accounts of Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus. You may remember the story. Simon Peter, full of bluster and bravado, made bold promises about his commitment and abilities in the face of adversity. Suffering on a cross? Why didn’t you say that’s where we were going? No problem. Simon boasted that he would go to the wall – to the death if necessary – in his commitment to Christ. Even if everyone else fell by the wayside, he wouldn’t. How hard could it actually be?
Jesus, lovingly but uncompromising, told Peter the truth: “Before the rooster crows (that is, even before the sun rises and the day begins), you will deny that you even know me, three times.” Simon Peter was insulted. His pride would allow nothing else. But, by the time the sun rose, Peter had been reduced to a whimpering, trembling, and cowardly defector. Confronted by those accusing him of being a follower of his now arrested and condemned Rabbi, Peter called down curses from heaven. He renounced the Christ he loved and abandoned Jesus to the civil and religious authorities. The outspoken leader of the band of disciples was a turncoat. He was in over his head, and finally he had to admit it.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t leave him there. After his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Simon Peter. Jesus embraced him. Forgave him. Restored him. The shame and self-disgust were washed away by mercy. This forever changed the man. Yes, he remained gruff and curt; after all he was a hard working fisherman. But he never recovered from the forgiveness extended by the very one he had thrice denied. It ruined him in the best possible way.
We all fail. We all disappoint. We all have moments – sometimes multiple moments – when the crowd peddles by us. And we sit there exhausted, used up, in over our heads. In those moments Christ comes to us. Not with criticism, but encouragement. Lovingly, he lets us catch our breath. Then, uncompromising, he puts us back on the seat, and back in the saddle.
He understands and offers grace best: No one who has ever failed, at faith or at riding a bike, has ever gotten fit by remaining where he fell.