Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
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There’s also the expression about beating your head against a wall – trying over and over again, bloodying yourself with meager results.
Most humans know what it feels like to be your own worst enemy. To wish that you could quit making the same mistakes over and over, and over, and over and over…
It hurts, it’s embarrassing. I speak from experience – most notably with my eating disorder. I went over and over again to counselors and heard the same things. I swore over and over that I’d eat “tomorrow” and then failed. I was inpatient three different times and then fell flat on my face within a couple years of discharge.
Failure is painful.
In a more modern day example, I have tried over and over for years to say yes to every invitation, every need; to never alienate anyone. I have tried to please so many people that, as the saying goes, I please no one. Then, I’m hurt, I’ve angered others and I’m embarrassed and lonely. And I do it again.
And it hurts.
Not only do I make the same mistakes, but I have often noticed that God has to repeat himself to me. He is practically hammering me over the head or writing words in the sky before I finally pay attention and respond, “Oh, you mean ME?”
I was comforted in my foibles recently during a character study on the life of the apostle Peter. Not excused, certainly, but comforted that Jesus still wanted to hang out with Peter. Comforted that on the other side of painful, embarrassing mistakes, Jesus still valued Peter’s friendship and found him useful for the advancement of his kingdom. Jesus loved Peter even though he had to tell him and teach him the same things multiple times. In fact, after being loved through so many screw ups, I wager that a privilege of his pain was that Peter understood and trusted Jesus’ love more than ever before.
1. Jesus trumped Peter as a fisherman more than once. The first is mentioned in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called his disciples. Peter and his companions had fished all night without a single catch. Suddenly, this stranger showed up, stepped into Peter’s boat and started preaching to the crowd on the shore. Finally, he turned to Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Reluctantly, Peter did and to his surprise hauled in such a large number of fish that the nets began to break.
This scenario repeated itself almost perfectly at the end of Jesus’ time on earth. In John 21, Jesus stood on the shore, looking out toward his weary, fish-less disciples. When they recognized him, he told them again to put down their nets one more time. Again, their Lord filled their nets to the point of breaking.
2. Peter was emphatically in love with Jesus and just a little impulsive. Matthew 14:22-23 is the story of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat where his weary disciples were battling against a rising storm. When Peter recognized Jesus, he tossed all caution to the wind, stepped out on the water and began walking toward Jesus. (There was that little matter of fear that had him drowning a few seconds later, but Jesus scooped him up just in time.)
The second time was again in John 21, one of the final times that the disciples saw bodily Jesus. Bold, audacious Peter saw Jesus standing on the sand and abandoned his fellow fishermen. This time he didn’t even consider walking and he had no time to entertain fear. He swam madly for shore, to Jesus (and a hot breakfast).
3. The third occasion I’m considering here, wasn’t beside the sea, but next to the flames of a warm, cooking fire. Jesus was bound and surrounded by a crowd of condemning, self-righteous Jewish leaders. At a distance, Peter warmed himself by a fire as he watched the terrible proceedings. Fear got the best of Peter again. Three times that night, in the flickering shadows, he swore that he had never met Jesus, let alone been a follower.
Jesus redeemed that night, once again beside a cook fire. He was serving his disciples a breakfast of roasted fish and toast. As they rested, full and in good company, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Emphatic, boisterous, indomitable Peter took the invitation to declare three times that he loved the Lord.
Making the same mistakes twice hurts. Often it hurts us physically, and it always hurts our pride. But since there’s no way to completely evade the pain of mistakes and the consequences of sins – isn’t it worth looking for the eventual beauty? Isn’t it wonderful to look at the redeeming love of Jesus over each failure? Would we ever know how good God is, if we didn’t make, repeat, live through and grow from painful mistakes?