“Follow thou me”

We shouldn’t let our perception of other people’s faults or misdeeds prevent us from following our own Christ-guided path.

Imagine the scene: Following his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus had shown himself to his disciples on more than one occasion. But later, some of the disciples, possibly unsure what to do next, decided to go fishing (see John 21). With the help of someone whom they later recognized to be Jesus, they had made an abundant catch, and now they were all having a meal together. Then Jesus gave Peter a job to do: to feed Jesus’ sheep, his followers. Peter must have realized that this was a big assignment. Pointing at another disciple, he asked Jesus, “And what shall this man do?” Jesus simply responded, “What is that to thee? follow thou me.”

The admonition “What is that to thee? follow thou me” has been a guidepost for much of my life. I remember the moment when, as a teenager, I read that story in the Bible and felt certain that these words applied to me and my life just as much as they had to Peter. It was one of those moments when the Bible felt completely relevant to me.

My good-humored mother, a lifelong Christian Scientist, was easygoing and patient, with one notable exception. She could not abide hypocrisy. “Don’t be hypocritical,” she would sometimes say. As a child, I was often confused by what she meant, but when I later became aware of this exchange between Jesus and Peter, I realized that following Jesus’ instruction would enable me to steer clear of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and pride.

Focusing only on our own thoughts and tasks and on following Christ in any situation requires humility and trust. “Follow thou me” doesn’t mean that we won’t have doubts or fears along the way. But we shouldn’t let our perception of other people’s faults or misdeeds prevent us from following our own Christ-guided path. It can be very distracting to watch others instead of focusing on what we ourselves are thinking and doing.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, included in her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (pp. 323–328) an enlightening allegory in which she describes a person who becomes disenchanted with his earthly ways and looks for a way heavenward. An individual referred to simply as “the Stranger” helps put him on the right path and warns him not to let the choices of others distract him. He’s also told not to bring anything along so that he can focus entirely on his spiritual progress.

When we seek to follow Jesus, we can know what to do in any situation.

To me, this allegory and Jesus’ instruction to follow him illustrate perfectly what we must do. We cannot let the behavior of others dictate what we do or how we feel or think. This isn’t easy in today’s world, where one can know instantly how someone on the other side of the globe feels about a given topic. Social media has become a means of spreading outrage and anger, and it’s easy to get pulled in by wave after wave of upheaval and worry. But when we seek to follow Jesus, we can know what to do in any situation. He was a spiritually scientific thinker: He knew God to be the creator and guardian of the universe. He knew God as Love and Truth, and God’s creation as very good.

Thus, following him means employing the same kind of God-centered thinking. In moments of annoyance, outrage, or fear we can pause to pray. Jesus communed with God constantly, and we must strive to do the same. Communing with God—praying and listening—helps us to resist having an unhelpful reaction and to instead “refuel” with spiritual truths. I often take time during the day to be quiet and listen—on dog walks, while driving, or in bed at night. Asking God what He knows of a situation—requesting guidance on where to focus my thoughts when the news tells of disaster, crime, war, corruption, or tragedy—doesn’t take much time. It does take attention or focus, and the less outraged, fearful, or self-righteous I am, the better I can see and hear God’s direction.

Not being outraged doesn’t mean that we ignore the plight of others or turn away from those who need help. On the contrary, consciously following Jesus’ example means that we help support those in need. But we can do so calmly and with a clear thought instead of feeling overwhelmed by their suffering. That way we are able to give prayerful help more quickly and effectively.

Even striving to do that, we need to be alert. I know I need reminders, sometimes every day. A small example showed me recently that there are subtle ways in which self-righteousness, in particular, can creep in.

On my way home from the grocery store, another driver blocked both lanes leading from the parking lot to the street. As the seconds ticked by, I started getting irritated. When he finally did move, I silently admonished the man, “Use the correct lane next time!”

As soon as I thought that, these words from the Bible came to mind: “There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). They were spoken by a religious official after Jesus had healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Every time I read that account, the man sounds self-righteous to me. And I realized that’s exactly how I sounded when I mentally scolded the man who had held me up a few seconds.

That synagogue official probably felt it was important to uphold religious rules, including the Ten Commandments. But Jesus rebuked the interpretation the man was espousing and made clear that freeing someone from a burden on the Sabbath didn’t break any commandment of God; in fact, healing was and is a duty. I saw that my small situation didn’t warrant self-righteous indignation on my part either, but instead called for a healing thought, following Jesus’ example. 

That brief exchange between Jesus and Peter described earlier has provided me with a lifetime of guidance because it is reliable, clear, and simple to follow. When the words “follow thou me” come to my thought, I know that I need to change course. Often it’s a reminder that I am being self-righteous, prideful, or hypocritical, or am following some other negative path. And as soon as I make that change of course, my path becomes clear and well marked. Then, I can pray with clarity instead of feeling burdened by or critical of the actions of others. I can better listen for and hear what God tells me about any given situation—and be an agent of healing rather than a judgmental bystander. 

Outrage and fear, no matter how justified they may seem, create a mental din that makes it hard to listen for solutions. But this statement by Mrs. Eddy explains the results of turning thought in a constructive direction: “Mankind will be God-governed in proportion as God’s government becomes apparent, the Golden Rule utilized, and the rights of man and the liberty of conscience held sacred” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 222). For me, following Jesus’ example is the best way to do this.

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