by Laura Howard, ISP Chicago 

reflecting with John 6:60-69, the reading for April 20

 In this Gospel passage looking back to the early gathering of the disciples, despite spending time with Jesus and witnessing signs that point to his divine identity, some disciples turn away and return to their former way of life, unable to believe in him. In contrast, Peter believes. Although he will later falter, now his faith is strong.

At times, my faith also feels unshakeable (especially when life is rosy), but sometimes questions and doubts rise and nag me. Great suffering and injustices in the world can precipitate these for me. I also am aware of my own shrinking back from risks and challenges that seem hard. So, while I admire Peter’s faith, I also have sympathy for those who turned back.  

Despite their attraction to Jesus, I imagine that some disciples turned away out of fear of being unfaithful to the God and Jewish faith tradition that grounded their lives. When John’s Gospel was written late in the First Century, the split between Christians and Jews was almost complete. Believers in Jesus met opposition and were unwelcome in the Synagogue. Perhaps anticipated losses and disruption to their lives seemed too high a price to pay.

The path to sobriety also requires an often-difficult decision to admit the need for help. Life without using can seem unimaginable and impossibly hard in the fog of addiction. It requires many changes, and often entails losses and hardships, such as separation from family and friends, giving children over to others’ care, or moving. Because it is difficult, relapse, turning back to former ways, is common. Having been through so much, those who come on ISP retreats are the most grateful people I know, and inspire me to be more grateful.  

Mercifully, to my ears, Jesus acknowledges that divine initiative is necessary for faith. Both faith and sobriety are enabled by grace. We all need divine help to move forward, not back. Humbling, yes; yet our need also can lead to a deeper relationship with God, which is exactly what God wants. 

Reflection: Have you known the uncertainty of choosing to follow God’s call? Did it feel like a risk? Were you drawn to turn away from the path God offered? How does God continue to offer you help and encouragement to stay on that path?

Laura has been an ISP Chicago volunteer team member since 2006. Closest to her heart is her family – her husband, two children and their wives, and four grandchildren. She is a spiritual director and has master’s degrees in public health, pastoral studies and divinity. And she loves birdwatching.