When You’re Lost at Sea

What do you do when you’re lost at sea?

Well, start by asking yourself, “Am I really lost?”

And I might suggest that you aren’t actually lost. You’re just somewhere… different. If you think about it, it takes a lot to be lost. To really be lost you have to have no idea where you are, no idea which way to go, and no map to find yourself again. The only thing worse than being lost, is being lost and marooned. The only hope is rescue.

But that’s an extreme case to have all of that happen, so think of it this way…

You’re not lost if you have your true North. That is the constant unfailing fixed light upon which all other things navigate by and rotate around.

You’re not lost if you have your Anchor. All ships will drift, even in still waters. The current underneath the surface subtlety shifts the position of the ship to its own will. But when we’re anchored we can only drift within an allowed distance, and never far enough to be lost. Paul uses the analogy of an anchor here in Hebrews 6:18-20,

“…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever…”

Having Christ as your anchor is the “anti-ever-being-lost-in-your-life” card. This hope is that Christ is our rescuer. He is our “steadfast anchor”. And our hope is transcendent and eternal. Even if we pass in this life, we still are anchored to Him in the next.

You’re not lost if you’ve been given a clear direction. I’m reminded of Paul who although, was actually lost at sea, and was actually shipwrecked, was more sure and steady than all of the ship full of sailors combined. He had heard his direction from his Master and no worldly circumstances could sink him. Not even his ship actually sinking, could sink his faith and obedience to the Word he was given. He had heard a clear direction from the Lord and this kept him afloat.

But there’s a problem. Because I knew I had all those things. I love Christ, and I know that He is my north, He is my anchor, and He gives me direction. He is the zenith of all things I could hope for.

And yet I still felt lost. I felt lost… But I wasn’t really lost.

I was just entering unfamiliar waters. 

We all feel a little lost when we’re in unfamiliar waters. 

I had left the shallow end of my familiar profession where I had splashed for ten years and had a proven career track lined up in front me. And I left it for an unfamiliar course with only a partial map. I ventured out and then the wind and the sea and all the other powers that be were sending me into unknown waters. And unfamiliarity led to ambiguity and ambiguity led to doubt, and doubt seeped into my soul. That should have been expected. Anytime we move in a new direction, whether out of necessity or out of faith or a combination of the two we become vulnerable to self-doubt. This is worsened by the more traditional opinions that are presented to us. Well meaning paternal voices around me (and even sometimes my inner voice) would chime in under the guise of wisdom and safety and say,

Life is precarious; you young cannot know how precarious. Don’t add to the sum total of difficulty that awaits you: Stay off the moors: stay off the ocean, stay away from the edge, don’t follow the intensity of your more passionate dreams, find safe work, and adventure not in your own nature lest it lead you directly into nature itself… Adventure only on the weekends of life and not in the working week.”[1]

The cautious voices say sail back to where it’s familiar… where the course has already been proven. But the ironic part about this frustration we all have with unfamiliarity is that it’s with this same lack of clarity in which we are enabled to act in faith for God. It’s when we are venturing through the unfamiliar, through hazardous and unknown waters that we are given the opportunity to fulfill our destiny to please God. We are, after all, told to be childlike, and there is no easier way to become childlike again than to venture out into the unknown. To sail out on the sea is to let go of your normal amount of control you possess while on the ground. And, to sail into the unknown sea, is to let go of control altogether. And this sort of venturing out leaves us feeling insecure.

There is a strange way in which at each crucial juncture in our works lives, whenever we leave the familiar behind, we become in a certain way, childlike again.[2]

To venture out into the Unknown sea is an opportunity for us to have childlike faith again. It is an opportunity to rely not on our own strength or skills but to once again trust in Christ to be all-sufficient for us. That we would find comfort in him even as we are sailing out of our comfort and fluency.

What do you do when you’re lost at sea? Navigate in faith, even though you may not have land in sight, and the stars might be covered by cloud at night, sail forth in faith! Remember your North, keep your anchor, stay the course. We are people of faith not sight.

So, sail forth in faith.

And to continue this illustration one more step, there is another kind of sickness that can fill our souls and it lies on the other end of the horizon. This is the strange restlessness that can build by resting in the harbor too long. Ports are great, and they are there with a purpose to give safety and for rest for those returning. But I’m overwhelmed with a sense of tragedy when I see a beautiful seaworthy vessel staying in a dock. It’s the tragedy of unrealized potential. There is the story of the HMS St. Lawrence, the mightiest ship to never sail the seas[3]. The St. Lawrence was one of the largest and most powerful ships ever built up to that time, but it was built almost entirely for a show of intimidation. And so one the greatest war vessels to ever be built was built on a Lake. Completely landlocked and unable to leave the shelter which once served to protect its construction. The waste of the St. Lawrence continued as it atrophied at a dock and eventually was sold to a pub to be run ashore and used as a makeshift pier. It was eventually picked for planks and now serves as popular shipwreck for scuba divers in the The Great Lakes. 

Harbor, ports, walls…they all serve us well. Until they don’t.

“Sometimes we have built the wall ourselves, but often it is simply the nature of things that walls that once served and sheltered us at certain periods of our life only imprison us when we have remained within their confines for too long”[4]

And so the other side of feeling lost at sea is perhaps being bored at the port. The sense of unfulfilled purpose sets in and just as doubt can sicken the soul, restlessness jades it. This is my word to you…

“You must do something heartfelt, you must do it soon. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want for yourself… You have ripened already and you are waiting to be brought in. Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation. You are beginning, ever so slowly” – he hesitated – “to rot on the vine.”[5] 

Whichever side of the horizon you find yourself on, my word to you is the same. Sail forth in faith. Perhaps you’re just starting out in a new found calling. Maybe it’s the unknown waters of a new career. Or perhaps you are in the eye of a storm in your identity, career, mid-life, or even quarter-life crisis. My word to you is the same. Sail forth in faith. God has created you with a vocation, with a purpose that is undeniably etched into your heart. Your life’s work is more than just work for work’s sake and yet it is valuable for its own merit. We must find that work. Venture off the docks. Sail through the unfamiliar waters.

“…To feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exactly same time–is one of the great triumphs of human existence.”[6] 

Indeed, I think it is the moment when we truly begin fulfilling our vocation, our life’s work, when we are working in what is right for ourselves and yet also good for the world. Gordon T. Smith says it like this, “Your vocation is God’s gift to the world, through you.”[7] Too often we miss our most fulfilling work because we are parked in bay, or panicking in strange seas.

At all times, sail forth in faith.

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Have you gone through a career, identity, mid-life, or quarter-life crisis before? How did you navigate through it? Do you feel stuck in the harbor, waiting for significant work? Comment below and share your experience. 

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[1] David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Seas, Page 38

[2] David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Seas, Page 63

[3] http://militaryhistorynow.com/2013/08/16/3665/

[4] David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Seas, Page 76

[5] David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Seas, Page 133-134

[6] David Whyte, Crossing The Unknown Seas, Page 4

[7] Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling

2 thoughts on “When You’re Lost at Sea

  1. Good read and I can relate. I hear a lot of the millennial mind set in this and the clash between the Gen X view of work and the Millennial’s. Might I suggest a future blog to involve millennial mindset and how that plays out in your life and work with younger millennials?

    Like

    1. Yeah there is definitely a lot there. Ironically this blog post started about millennial / baby boomer work ethic inspirations!

      Maybe I’ll revisit it again. Thanks for sharing.

      Like

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