My friend Emma and I walked along the quiet neighborhood road, talking away, when out of nowhere the web of a giant mutant spider reached out, grabbed us by the face, and almost knocked us off our feet. Seriously, this single strand web spanning over the sidewalk, between a road sign and a tree, was so thick that our foreheads didn’t stand a chance. Maybe it was because we were too focused on each other or too focused on our own feet, but we did NOT see that coming! We’d been clotheslined.
As a child growing up in rural Vermont, the clothesline – a length string or rope, usually stretched from a house to a tree, on which clean laundry was hung to dry – was a part of my everyday world.
An empty clothesline, however, hung at approximately head or neck level, could become dangerous to an unsuspecting backyard traveler. If you were too busy looking at the ground or at something else around you, you were in danger of catching the line with your face and having your feet thrown right out from under you.
The term “clotheslined” has been coined as a move in both football and wrestling where your opponent firmly holds their arm out at neck level in order to stop your forward progress from the top and throw you down onto your back. If you saw it coming, you could adjust and avoid the fall, but the whole point is that you don’t. The surprise is what makes a clothesline a clothesline.
In the first chapter of the book of John, we read about this guy, Simon, and his first face-to-face encounter with Jesus. And in this first meeting, Jesus gives him a new name: Peter. Simon, the old self, was no more – now he, as a follower of Jesus, would be the “rock”.
The problem was that no matter how much Peter was becoming that leader and solid rock of a disciple, Simon kept showing up, extending his arm and taking him down. And he never saw it coming!
One moment, trust-filled Peter is stepping out of a boat, putting his feet down and walking on water. But then:
Here comes Simon with that outstretched arm of doubt and suddenly he’s sinking in a swarm of wind and waves. He did NOT see that coming.
Fast forward some time, and now truth-filled Peter is professing his belief that Jesus is the Messiah – the Anointed Son of God, come to rescue His people. But just a few verses later:
Here comes Simon whispering the lies that his plans for Jesus were greater than God’s. Resulting in Jesus temporarily renaming him “Satan”. He didn’t see THAT coming either.
Then, just a short time later, we see fearless Peter declaring that even if everyone else abandoned Jesus, he NEVER would! And we all know what happens next:
Here comes Simon, arm out, aiming directly for the neck. Peter’s confidence bows to his fears, he denies even knowing Jesus, and the “rock” is now a pile of shattered pebbles. Luke 22:62 says that when Peter realized what he had done, he “wept bitterly”.
But, John 21 describes a beautiful scene in which the resurrected Jesus gently picks up that pile of pebbles, looks Peter in the eye, and reminds him that He would never give up on him.
Those clothesline-style attacks may have surprised Peter, but they didn’t surprise Jesus at all. He knew that Simon would show up, He knew that Peter wouldn’t see it coming, and He knew the end result. But He also knew that Peter needed those reminders that it wasn’t about how rock-solid he was – it was about how rock-solid the One he had put his faith in was.
Like Peter, I’m a regular recipient of clothesline attacks from my old self. And I never see it coming! I’m all like, “It’s gonna be a great day!” and then:
Here comes old Mandy!
And I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. I feel like I’ve let Jesus down. I feel like I’ve hurt my family, friends, or even a total stranger (yep, that happened). I feel like there’s no hope for me, because I NEVER thought THAT would happen.
But then the even stronger arm of Jesus reaches out and I get clotheslined yet again – this time by grace. His unfathomable mercy takes my feet right out from under me. And then He gets the amazing opportunity to reach out His hand, say my name, look me in the eye, and remind me that He’s never giving up on me.
Even though Emma and I’s “clotheslining” happened more than a decade ago, I still remember it vividly every time I drive through that part of town.
The memory of our falls may always stick in our minds (especially the epic mutant ninja spider ones), but it’s not to condemn us or scare us into being more careful next time. They’re there to remind us that it’s not about us – it’s not about how strong we are or how perfect we’ve been – it’s just all about our rock-solid God and His never-ending grace toward those of us who are simply willing to accept it.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-9a