Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sailing to New Horizons - Part 2

            Part One focused metaphorically on the dangers of trying to sail through life without proper care for the soul.  Dry docking the boat is a sailing term for taking the boat offline to inspect and re-enforce stressed or weakened parts as a result of traveling the seas. Dry dock (downtime) is essential for ensuring stability and mobility through the storms of life guaranteed to test our vessel (personal being).  This Part Two focuses more on the practicals of dry dock. 
            There are many aspects of soul care which contribute to a healthy quality of life.  Sailing a boat requires knowing how to harness the power of the wind to navigate in a particular direction.  So too in life there are truths and principles that create predictable results.  Good ethics, character development, life skills, and virtuous living all help for things to go well in life.  Our performance-based culture rewards our focus on these kinds of activities.  But a truth frequently forgotten, is that good performance is predicated by how well we ”perform”  in our private thoughts and inner world. 
            As we noted, the main purpose of the keel, beneath the waterline, is to balance the boat.   When the keel is weakened or broken, the ship is in severe danger of losing its  balance in the slightest storm conditions, causing the ship to capsize with no chance to survive.  Balancing the time a ship spends sailing on the sea with time spent in dry dock to maintain its seaworthy condition, is crucial for survival.  Balancing the time we spend pursuing our duties in life (as a parent, employee, leader, member, friend, etc.), with time spent temporarily putting those duties aside for rest, is imperative for life to go well.   
            True rest is the balance that keeps your sailboat sailing. Proper rest is designed to renew and restore life.  There is no way around it.  Rest is the activity that keeps you active, creative, and productive.  Let's briefly consider four types of rest.  To help us remember these four types, let's unpack an acronym to sail (S-A-I-L).  The S is Sleep.  The A is Activity.  The I is Inspiration and Inspection.  The L is Listening intently.   
            1.  Sleep.  Sleep is the activity that completely shuts down our conscious mind for about one third of every day.  Yes, we sleep about one third of our lives.  Sleep is a huge and fascinating topic too big to explore here,  but two points are worthy of mention.  Although opinions may vary as to how much sleep is enough, making the decision to do what it takes to get enough sleep is the only way you will get enough sleep.  You must decide your sailing vessel (body and soul) cannot sail without it.  Secondly, sleep is not just for the body to rest, but also for the psyche to rest.  Especially for those in people helping activities on a daily basis, sleep  is important to maintain psychological sharpness and stability.     
            2. Activity.  In order to maximize the rest factor, consider better management of your daily activity.  Make the most of the types, durations, flows, and intensities of routine tasks.    Avoid extremes and practice moderation.  Maybe your employer controls a great deal of how your time is spent on the job, but you can limit stress by making time for sports, hobbies, music, reading, playing games with family, and other things you find relaxing.   Make "play" an intention practice in three areas: physical (eg. sports), spiritual (eg worship), and psychological (eg. reading).  Be aware of circumstances that sap your "emotional energy," and counter them with something that fills your "emotional tank."   
            3. Inspiration and Inspection.  This type of rest is meant to "feed" the spirit part of your being.  Humans are designed as spirit beings, and thus need spiritual food as desperately  as they need physical food to nourish the physical body.  A dictionary definition of inspiration is, "a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul."  Spiritual food may include time spent alone with God (getting to know Him better),  pursuing God together with other people, or anything with the goal of inspiring faith, hope, and love with divine qualities. 
            Inspection works hand in hand with inspiration to keep us honest about our true spiritual condition.  We need self-evaluation and input from other people to stay true to our core identity and purpose in life.  Our natural tendency is to try to make life work without God's help.  Even those who consider themselves God-followers have a leaning to "do life" under, over, from, or for God, as compared to living "with" God.  For an explanation of how this works, see Skye Jethani's excellent book called With: Re-imagining the Way You Relate to God. 
            4. Listening intently.  The fourth type of rest, and the most engaged form of dry dock, is listening intently.  Listening could be thought of as an extension of both inspiration and inspection described above.  I use the term listening to emphasize an active receiving mode.  It is not merely "hearing," or passive intellectual or emotional stimulation.  The goal of listening is to transform (for the better) who you are as a person.  It is not to evaluate performance as much as it is to uncover and strengthen your inner being.  The ultimate response of listening involves surrender.  The real secret to rest is complying with a definition that was given about 2000 years ago in Christ's words,  “Come to me all of you who are tired from the heavy burden you have been forced to carry. I will give you rest.  Accept my teaching. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble in spirit. And you will be able to get some rest.  Yes, the teaching that I ask you to accept is easy. The load I give you to carry is light”  (Matthew 11:28-30; ERV).  Listening acknowledges our need for help outside of ourselves. 
            God's voice of truth is all around us.  God speaks words of life.  We can only hear them, if we are listening.   Listening postures may include intentional quiet, complete silence, reflection, meditation, journaling, recording, and waiting.  Every so often, it is imperative to get away from ALL distractions for personal retreat.  Listening is rarely practiced in our culture.  A big reason is our lack of success at filtering out distractions.  Eliminating the hindrance of "noise" is the first step toward listening. 
            Noise is so commonly tolerated that its hard for some people to imagine an experience in life without it.  Sheer busyness (over-scheduling) is a huge source of noise.  Noise is somewhat dependent on background and culture.  A New York City dweller is adapted to noise more than an Amish farmer in Lancaster, PA.  A hearing impaired person is more likely confused by background noise, when  holding a conversation in a crowded room.  An example of psychological noise may be your inner voice telling you lies about who you are (or are not) as a person because of past hurts or wounds.  This kind of baggage noise causes excess weight to make sailing your ship even more difficult.  Whether it be circumstantial, physical, or psychological noise, the more noise, the less listening is possible.  Less listening means less rest.  Without the dry dock of rest, your ship (life) is more likely to break down when storms rage like job loss, close relationship loss, health loss, or financial  loss.     
            To the degree that you practice dry dock (these types of rest) you will be best prepared for the stressors of life when they come.  Your ship is made ready to S-A-I-L. 
            From time to time in my own life, I am forced to make some decisions needed to help me sail.  One example is my use of the cell phone.  I have chosen to limit my use of the phone for voice communication and not access the Internet.  I do a lot of my work on the computer, but do not want my computer on my phone.  The distraction would be too great.  I consider "texting" too great a temptation for distractibility as well,  I do not text.  I'm not a technophobe.  I spent 17 years developing software for my employment.  I simply cherish the "listening time" I maintain without the greater level of  noise.
For me, convenience is never a good enough reason to go with new communication  technology.  Research is starting to show the great danger in over-stimulation caused by recent technology.  I'm not saying that my personal boundaries should be adopted by everyone, but everyone needs designated personal time with their communication devices turned off completely.     
            In the Christian community, statistics are huge for burnout among church workers, pastors, missionaries, and leaders.  A variety of things may contribute to a shipwreck incident, but one of the greatest failures is the lack of dry dock.  I am committed to the value of rest in my personal life, and I want to see others become better sailors as well.   Personal retreats, sabbaticals, debriefings, or extended times to focus on inner strength should be considered normal procedure in the concept of ministry.  There are resources available to help.  I have linked with a group of care providers to offer personal debriefing for missionaries.  The Le Rucher model of debriefing has  helped thousands over the years.  For more information see .   I have also helped many pastors and leaders through the counseling and spiritual coaching at the Blue Rock Bed and Breakfast.  Upon request, I tailor retreat activities based on time available, ministry setting, and specific needs for renewal. 
            Reading Gordon MacDonald's book called The Life God Blesses inspired me to write this article.   I encourage you to read his book, and consider dry dock an essential part of your work.  If you're not taking care of yourself, it's only a matter of time until you won't be taking care of anybody.  If you contact me, I would be glad to assist you in finding a better way to S-A-I-L to new horizons.

Note:  If you are reading this and you also provide ways to dry dock for struggling Christian leaders, please contact me so we can get acquainted.  Referral sources and mutual support is welcomed for this type of care.

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry