Sunday Resolutions and Peter’s Denial

This post is a mashup of a Gospel Doctrine lesson I taught last week and a response to Steve’s excellently sentimental post earlier this week. 

Mark 14:72  And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.

“My heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.

“Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, followed by self-accusation and bitter tears of regret.”

Gordon B. Hinckley

That’s one of my favorite quotes from President Hinckley. The example of Peter in this instance really hits me, because I tend to be a victim of “Sunday resolutions,” those bold declarations that are so easy to make and so difficult to live up to.

Basically, any time I’m at church feeling the Spirit, I go into self-improvement mode. “I’m going to do X, Y, and Z this week, and not just as one-offs either…I’m going to develop a habit of doing all these healthy/righteous/happy things.” I even have a secret Twitter feed where I collect all the goals and resolutions I set for myself in church.

In the moment, they seem like good goals: Generally achievable, not too onerous, but with a meaningful impact on my life and my happiness. Of course, they come in moments of spiritual high, when anything seems possible. I can overcome anything, achieve anything!

So can Peter. It’s easy to proclaim that he’ll never betray Jesus—the Savior is walking and talking with him. It’s even easy to pledge to defend him, and even chop a dude’s ear off to prove it. Perhaps he would’ve fought to the death for his Lord that night.

And yet. And yet.

It seems that at some point between the moment I leave the church building and when I get on the subway car to go home—a 3-minute window—my Sunday resolutions get tossed right out. I had my whole sabbath planned. I was going to do some activities with the kids, maybe get my hometeaching done, get a head start on next week’s lesson, write a moving BCC post, do a hundred sit-ups while I listen to the General Conference podcast. But nope. Instead, how about a frozen pizza and then I’ll doze on the couch while the kids watch a movie? Perfect Sunday.

Peter’s only been apart from the Savior for a few hours when he goes back on his pledge. It’s so much easier this way. Gotta just get through these next few minutes.

Rationalizing and excusing things that we know are wrong is almost automatic, right? It’s unconscious for me, and I’m so, so good at it. I wonder if rationalization isn’t the pinnacle of human mental achievement. When I want to do something I know I shouldn’t, or don’t want to do something I know I should, my mind auto-sorts and processes a million scenarios, and presents the ideal rationalization in what seems like a tenth of a second. “Do I really wanna read the scriptures right n…” BOOM—here’s a hundred other things I can do instead, many of which are suddenly very, very important and can’t wait a moment longer.

Try it at home. Turn off your stupid computer and go read your scriptures, dummy.

Still here? Huh.

Somehow, that capacity to rationalize is dimmer at church when I’m making these grand Sunday resolutions. Maybe it’s the Spirit’s influence, or maybe it’s easy to come up with grand plans when I’m just sitting there in a cushy chair. I’m going to eat right this week, wake up every morning at 7 to exercise, leave work every day at 6, spend less money, be more fun with my kids.

Work it harder, make it better,
do it faster, makes us stronger.

Daft Punk and Kanye have it exactly right.

The kicker to the story of Peter’s denial is how easily the resolve came to him in the moment, and how quickly and completely it slipped away in another moment. Was he weeping tears of remorse? Was he in shock at how fast his resolve melted away? As I mentioned, that very night he’d whipped out his sword and chopped a dude’s ear off out of fierce loyalty. The suddenness of his about-face is certainly cause for weeping “when he thought thereon.” What a heartbreaking phrase.

But here’s the other kicker: Jesus had the same impulse, and overcame it. After all, he had made some pretty lofty promises himself. “Here am I, send me.” When the moment arrives, so did the human impulse to shy away, to look for an alternate path. I bet his mind could come up with quite a few of them. Nevertheless, even in that moment, his resolve to submit held firm in the face of unbearable pain.

Even as I type that paragraph, I’m thinking I really want to follow the Savior’s example the next time an opportunity presents itself to follow through on a resolution or a goal or a commitment. Will I still feel the same way three minutes from now? I’m not sure.

But I’d love to hear about your own experiences with Sunday resolutions.

Comments

  1. Really great thoughts and way of looking at this.

  2. Wow, and yeah I feel you. You feel like a hypocrite. And yet. Aren’t you a better person for at least having tried?

  3. That was the question we discussed in class, Steve. A) Why do we keep trying if we keep failing; and B) is this a helpful process to constantly be going through?

  4. Did anyone mention that life is like an escalator going down while you are trying to go up?

  5. senalishia says:

    Steve Evens, if you give yourself credit for “at least having tried”, you’re just perpetuating the problem. You reward yourself without actually accomplishing anything. The downside of being conscientious about our actions and goals is that we are constantly aware of how much we fall short. It’s the only way to improve, though.

  6. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    Well, given what Jesus was asking us to do, it’s no surprise we habitually betray him three times before breakfast.