Adventure is our family’s middle name, so when we’re presented with the opportunity to try something new that involves the outdoors, we say Desi-“Let’s Go!”
In September of 2015, we were invited by our good friends, the Vallette’s, to join them for a day of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Though a couple of us struggle with motion sickness, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity to spend a day on the water!
As we set off from Green Point Landing, we couldn’t wait to get our sea legs on. The girls had a blast exploring the boat, Tim kicked back and relaxed, and though my eyes were “on the horizon,” my attention was on everything else that was going on – I had no idea sailing was so much work!
At one point, I overheard Amy remind her teenage son, who was taking his turn at the wheel, to “Watch your tell-tales!” Though I had never heard of “tell-tales” before, I looked up and immediately knew what she was talking about: Attached to the fabric on either side of the sail were tiny green and red tapes, just a few inches long, that danced in the wind as we moved along.
From my land-lubber understanding, these “tell-tales” are so named because they “tell” the sailor a “tale” about the sail’s position in relation to the wind’s force. When sailing upwind, the sail must be trimmed to a certain angle in order to catch the gusts properly and make headway. If both “tell-tales” are streaming straight back, the sail is “in good trim” and progress will be made. But if one side is hanging down or fluttering, the jib is “out of trim” and a slight adjustment is needed.*
For the disciples, following Jesus was a lot of work. His ministry wasn’t contained to one place, which meant constant movement and travel. His ways weren’t conventional, so mental stamina was required for them to adjust and obey on the fly. And as we know from their stories, emotional energy was required as their faith was regularly being put to the test.
After a particularly challenging assignment in which Jesus sent the twelve out in pairs to towns and villages in Galilee, they “gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30) He listened to their stories, but also noticed that “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat”. Though they could have given their report and moved right on into more ministry, Jesus instead said: “‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (v. 31-32)
Jesus knew that the demands from this point on would be endless and there would be potential for them to fill every second of every day with ministry. But He also knew that in order to continue making headway, they needed a break from the demands and some time for their energy to be restored – especially if there was no time to eat! Even Jesus didn’t want to deal with a bunch of hangry disciples!
In his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” author Pete Scazzero points out that, “We are called to lay down our lives for others (1 John 3:16). But remember, you first need a ‘self’ to lay down.” Giving something away requires having a grasp on it first, and giving my ‘self’ away requires me to have a grasp on what that ‘self’ is. And part of knowing what I have to give away is knowing how I can restore what I’ve given away through self-care.
“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.”** Self-care puts wind back in our sails and gives us the energy to keep pressing on loving others in an upwind kind of way. When I sense an emotional meltdown approaching, it’s a telltale sign that it may be time for some self-care. I keep a list next to my bed: Have I been spending quality time with God? Am I getting enough sleep? Have I had a significant chunk of alone time in the last week? Did I make time for exercise today? When was the last time I read a book or watched a show just for fun? The answers to those questions usually reveal that my sail position needs to be adjusted!
If you open your Bible and look up the verses quoted above, Mark 6:30-32, you’ll find they are the opening verses of a story you may know well: “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand”. In their attempt to sneak away, “many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” So much for that “down time”! And of course “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (v. 33-34)
The boat ride was all they got and I think if you asked Jesus, He would have said the boat ride was all they needed. The (possibly still a bit hangry) disciples went right into another time of ministry and right into another testing of their faith – but also right into another life-giving miracle.
In my tendency to overcorrect, I often crank the wheel right past self-care and all the way over into self-serving. I was born selfish and when I give myself an inch, I’m tempted to take a mile. And I’ve noticed that the same indicators exist in the other direction – my emotional meltdowns, impatience when little things don’t go my way, and overly critical spirit are telling me a tale that all I seem to care about is myself and it’s time to give some of that self away.
I’ve never found myself at the wheel of a sailboat, but I’ve spent plenty of time steering motorboats and there’s no such thing (at least in the boats I’ve driven) as ‘autopilot’. You can’t just let go and assume the boat will go straight – it’s a constant process of small adjustments requiring you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times!
Making headway as a follower of Jesus requires the same hands-on-the-wheel attention. There’s no cut-and-dry rule for the exact amount of “self-care” or the exact amount of “others-care” we need to get our tell-tales to align. The path our boat takes may look more like a zig-zag rather than a straight line, but that’s because it’s a process. Jesus knows me better than I know myself, He’s always with me, and I can trust in His navigational skills!
Speaking of indicators, when I fall asleep in the first five minutes of the season finale of my favorite show (and it’s the wedding episode I’ve been waiting years for!), it’s a telltale sign that I’m not getting enough sleep and it’s time for something to give. May is here, the school year is winding down, and I’m overdue to shift my brainpower over to prepping for our Youth@Hope summer SERVE trip. I’ll repost some of my favorites from 2016/2017 over the summer and be back re-energized with new ideas for the fall!
** Parker Palmer, as quoted in “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” p. 35