So, when was your last sabbatical, personal retreat, or just a few days of vacation? Failure to balance work with appropriate rest is one of the most common reasons people in leadership and service professions are forced to quit. Here are a few tips.
In a book called The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald tells the story of an expert sailor named Michael Plant. In 1992 he set out from the US east coast to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat with the best equipment available and the experience of having done this routine many times before. About two weeks into the voyage, his boat was found floating upside down in the sea with no signs of the man. MacDonald tells this story to point out that "we're all in the same boat" (pun intended), and that success in our life's journey is much like the metaphor of sailing.
Have you or someone you know experienced a hard-to-explain sailing accident or shipwreck? By wreck or serious accident I mean burnout, psychological breakdown (depression, anxiety, etc.), addiction, moral failure, suicide, homicide, or other criminal actions. Demands of life seem to create stressors in greater numbers and intensity than ever before in history. Professional achievement, accumulation of wealth, and outwardly happy marriage and family life do not automatically translate into a successful voyage.
Hard work ethic, good friends and family, latest technology, and even strong faith are sometimes not enough to navigate the storms and trials of life. Storms happen. Disruptions occur. Only foolishness makes us think we are immune to bad things destroying our lives.
Plant's boat capsized mainly because a four ton weight had detached from its keel. MacDonald mentions, "I discovered this much about sailboats as I read about Michael Plant’s tragedy. I learned that in order for a sailboat to maintain a steady course, and in order for it not to capsize but to harness the tremendous power of the wind, there must be more weight below the waterline than there is above it. Any violation of this principle of weight distribution means disaster." Although not visible, the boat's keel beneath the waterline is the most important part of the boat. Plant's sailboat was found upside down because of failure of its keel. Our lives get turned upside down when we fail to maintain our keel (soul) beneath the waterline (unseen inner person).
A sailboat must be properly maintained to ensure it can withstand the stormy seas. Over time joints crack, bolts rust, wind-driven structures shift, and the salty sea water requires replacement of parts and reconditioning of other parts. The only way to do the necessary repairs is to dry dock the boat. Dry docking is removing the boat from the water so the parts beneath the waterline can be accessed. Without dry docking, safety is compromised, and the boat is guaranteed to fail at some point, likely at a most inopportune moment in stormy seas.
Sailing to new horizons in our life requires occasional "dry docking." Depending on your circumstances and type of work this may mean vacation, debriefing, extended time off, sabbatical, personal retreat, re-training, rehabilitation, or a major re-evaluation of your current path. Sometimes life above the waterline gets too busy keeping the business, church, organization, service, or ordinary roles and expectations moving along. Good appearance may become a higher priority than genuine soul care. Our inner being beneath the waterline so-to-speak, is overlooked. When our reliances, rewards, and relationships are only at a surface level, we are in great danger of "cracks" developing in our soul.
Cracks expand into compromised life structures. For example, an unhealthy habit may turn into an addiction. A "difficult person" to deal with may trigger old forgotten wounds making it impossible to feel at peace. Or, a stressful situation may turn into a traumatic event because it is the third major stressor in a short period of time. Cracks in our soul will eventually break us, likely in the most inopportune time, wrecking our lives, and often, many lives around us. Dry docking our activities, specifically for the purpose of inspecting the condition of our soul, is a necessary part of life.
A Proverb says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23). The core of human experience is the inner being. Most of the actions people take spring from the hidden unconscious level. Relatively speaking, very few decisions are made at the conscious level. Humans are creatures of habit, always preferring the familiar over the unknown, even if the familiar is unwise, treacherous, or dangerous. Gaping cracks develop in our soul (and remain unseen beneath the waterline) because we tolerate the small cracks which make us increasingly vulnerable. Most people who have an affair, for example, don't set out to have sex with someone other than their spouse. The "play around" with flirting and one emotional attachment upon another sails them on a voyage of no return. Things like pornography, drugs, and work-a-holism happen the same way. Sometimes the only way to "guard your heart" (as the proverb says) is to dry dock and discover excesses (or omissions) in your behaviors.
The invisible keel of your personal life (whether you call it your soul, heart, core-self, inner person, spiritual center, or whatever), guides the course and quality of your entire existence. Are you giving your keel the attention it needs? Are you feeding your soul a healthy diet? Are you protecting your heart from as much harmful influence as you know how? Are you dry docking long enough to ask these kinds of questions? Are you being transparent with someone close to you for evaluation and assessment of your true condition?
You may be a great "sailor" (skillful leader or well-qualified manager), have a great sailing "crew" (staff and volunteers), and even have successfully navigated difficult "voyages" in the past (persevered through trying circumstances). The fact remains, to keep your "vessel" (personal life) sea-worthy, you must make "dry dock" (rest and re-evaluation) a regular and intentional part of your "sailing" (life journey) experience. Taking a respite from your primary work or service project is not a sign of poor leadership, weak resolve, or lacking in mental, emotional, and spiritual stability. Making a choice to dry dock is your only hope to develop resilience needed for the long haul.
It's even okay to admit you need help repairing your keel. There are people who specialize in repairing of cracks, re-alignments. and recalibration of the soul. Good counselors help people live psychologically healthy lives from a whole person perspective. Emotional health is another topic I discuss in many articles on this blog site.
Three years ago I wrote an article to lay out specific actions people helpers can take to practice self-care. It is called Taking Care for Care-Givers at: http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html . Since that writing I have become aware of at least a half dozen significant leaders in our community who have wrecked their lives and many lives around them. Their offenses include murderer and other actions that have taken them to prison. Through my counseling I am indirectly connected to dozens more of similar cases. Sometimes the most difficult thing to grieve in these losses is the surprise element. Many are "good people" giving no indication of their deepest struggles. Successfully sailing the seas of life takes much more than good works and strong will power. Dry docking our sailboats must be taken more seriously. If we are going to sail far enough to see new horizons, we must first look into the hidden parts of our being for new strength and vitality. My next article will be a part 2 with more specific ways of dry dock.One more comment to those who follow God as their source for inner strength and peaceful sailing. God has done his part in providing a Savior for us to experience rebirth and spiritual renewal. It is up to us to surrender our hearts to him for his inspection and periodic dry docking for spiritual health. Spiritual leaders are particularly prone to the perils of sailing without adequate attention on the keel. My prayer is that dry dock becomes more an accepted practice for the journey. I make myself available as much as I can to assist. Have a great voyage!
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry