When you were young, you fastened your belt and walked where you chose; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and a stranger will bind you and lead you where you have no wish to go.—John 21:18
These words from the last chapter of John's gospel reduced Peter to silence for perhaps the first time in the gospels. Well they might. In them Jesus painted a vivid image of what Peter's fate would be as a witness to him. In dramatic relinquishment of control over his own life, Peter became a prisoner and was crucified for his Lord.
This is the kind of image that, at worst, fills our hearts with terror and, at best, causes us to falter or flee, especially in this season as the cross of Christ passes its shadow over our lives. With diffident hearts we want to calculate with our God: "This much, Lord, OK? Just don't let 'such and such' happen to me. Don't touch this part of my life!" We project horrors and tragedies beyond our strength to endure.
I know moments when I go into a cold sweat about the future. A familiar interior monologue goes something like this: "God has asked this sacrifice of me. It is livable—not so bad, if the truth be known .... It's painful—unbearably so at times (or so it seems), but if I let God think this is OK, what will God exact next? So I'd better pretend it's harder than it is or that I'm weaker than I am."
The monologue is foolish in the extreme. I emerge from it laughing at myself and trusting that God laughs too, because God knows what I perceive but dimly—that the sacrifice, the pain, the strength, and the joy are all God's gift and that there can be no pretense before God.