Sailing to the dangerous horizon

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

-attributed to Sir Francis Drake¹

 

In all honesty, I could make several blog posts based on this one poem. Reading it stirs up images of Horatio Hornblower’s Indefatigable or King Caspian’s Dawn Treader sailing into the distance. (To read more about this landlocked girl’s obsession with the sea, go read this post.)

No, today I want to focus on the message of the first and third stanzas (though the second stanza is a treasure all on its own!).

“Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.”

If I were a water vessel, I imagine I’d be a little fishing boat that goes out just far enough for the passengers to catch the good stuff, but not so far away that I couldn’t deliver them home to a comfortable dinner. I confirm the fact–I have stayed close to the metaphorical shore for most of my life.

Even when swimming in the deep end of the pool, I never stray too far away from the edge. I don’t want to put too much trust in my wobbly legs to keep my head above water! This tactic may be fine for a mediocre swimmer, but it’s not a great tactic for life, according to this poem. We all start small, swimming at the edge of the pool or sailing close to the shore, but we’re all meant to grow. Growth means expanding, stretching the limits of the imagination and the limits of what we think can be accomplished.

Sailing close to the shore means playing it safe. If we’re close to the shore, we can easily turn back. We can look to the shore at any time and see a life that is familiar–a life we are comfortable with, full of family and food and fond memories. In sailing close to the shore, we will arrive at our predicted location with no uncertainty in mind and very little discomfort and always with a place to turn aside to if life gets rough.

Sailing off into the open sea is a whole different matter.

“Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.”

The open sea involves boldness and daring and facing the unknown. It’s unpredictable and does not adhere to regular meal times and to-do lists. It’s a place where storms will rage, and we’re not sure that we’ll be able to face them. Most of all, sailing out into the open involves trusting God.

When we’re close to the shore, we may feel like we’re trusting God, but we can also see just off in the distance all we’ve ever known and loved, and we can depend on that if we like. There is a reason that these stanzas ask God to “disturb us”–to shake us up a little and get us to turn away from the familiar. Not only do I need God to sustain me out on the open sea, but I also need him to drive me there and to give me the courage to even take the step in that direction. I, for one, find this hard to do on my own because being shaken up and disturbed does not produce a very comfortable feeling.

In sailing close to the shore, we can see our predicted future unveiling before us. We have our planned course laid out, organized and beautiful. But do you know who has a better imagination than me and you? God, that’s who. One  characteristic of God’s that continually astounds me is his creativity. This isn’t an attribute that’s usually listed or talked about in Sunday School, but isn’t it true? Just look around! Observe his creation and the variety of people with their differing personalities!

It’s ironic that I, who so admires creativity, would not allow God to practice his perfect creativity in my life–molding my path and my character. While I can easily pinpoint my goals and desires, God has his own desires for me, and I bet they’re a lot more imaginative than my ideas, although a bit more uncomfortable and unpredictable. But even in this mysterious unknown, the raging waves still “show [His] mastery.” Even though these adventures sometime feel terrifying, God uses them to take us away from the familiar scenes of city lights and to “find the stars.”

About the time I read this poem, JJ Heller came out with her song for July titled “You Want More for Me.” This song revolves around a related theme, talking about how God will take us away from something we had planned for ourselves and onto a path that He knows is better and that we would never have dreamed up for ourselves. This song is based on a quote from one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”²

When I still haven’t attained my goals after what seems like age of waiting, I’m guilty of thinking things like “Can’t you handle this, God? Is it too big of a thing?” But it’s not. God could easily make my dreams become a reality. But he won’t do that to me because my dreams are too small. They’re close to the shore and limited to the measure of my own imagination. If I let Him, God would take me out to the open sea, to places I currently can’t imagine.

So what does this look like in real life? Unfortunately, I can’t exactly say. Isn’t that disappointing? But it’s kind of the point. I don’t know the specifics, and it’s sometimes terrifying. But for me, one thing this currently looks like is simply saying “yes” when fear and selfishness might want me to say “no.” (Though there are times when it’s all right to say no!) Beyond that, I haven’t got a clue.

In all honesty, this blog post has been so difficult for me to write. I’ve had it mostly completed for a month or so, but it’s difficult to post about a subject that I don’t feel like I’ve even come close to conquering. However, I’ve worked up a little bravery at last, so I’ll just leave these words here.

 

¹Drake, Sir Francis, “Disturb Us, Lord,” Renovare, 2019. https://renovare.org/articles/disturb-us-lord

²C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: and Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 26.

 

Photo credit: lifeisjustdandi.blog/

2 Comments

  1. This poem brought tears to my eyes. Too often we fall into old habits, content with wanting the least when God can provide us with blessings “pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” I appreciated reading your insight on this topic, especially your bravery in sharing about something you’re struggling with. On the bright side, I don’t think any of us ever figure it out completely. Faith and trust in the unknown are constant struggles for us all, I think. Your thoughts also reminded me of a section in Bob Goff’s book Love Does, where he challenged himself to say “yes” to everything for a period of time to see how God disturbed him and where he was lead. I think I need to practice a little more “yes!” in my own life. Lovely post. ❤️

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