Tag Archives: leaning

Sailboats and Rowboats

I’ll start with a confession…  I wasn’t going to post this week, I’m so tired that I was going to give myself some grace and not write anything, have a day off..

But then all day this thought that I read about in someone else’s blog* has been in my head, and it’s ministered to me so much and so deeply that I thought I’d share it with you, just in case you needed to hear it too…

“You are designed to be a sail boat, not a rowing boat”

I love this so much.  I love that all the power to do anything God asks me to do comes from him.  I love that I was never meant to serve him out of my own strength, out of my own effort.

My job is to put up the sail, his job is to provide the wind –  so simple, and so true.

No-one who has ever sailed a boat would want to row it across the lake instead.  No-one who has felt the exhilaration of catching the wind and feeling a boat suddenly accelerate across the water would prefer to slowly drag heavy oars.  It’s not that sailing is effortless, but it is less effort than rowing, and so much faster and so much more fun!

I know this.

And yet when I am tired, when life seems overwhelming, when everything is a bit too much – that’s when I start rowing.


Honestly, how sad is it that I pronounce myself too tired to put up a sail and then pick up the oars?  That when I have no strength, that’s when I start trying to do things in my own strength? I’m smiling as I write this, partly because it is just that ridiculous and partly because I can hear the theme of what God has been saying to me for weeks echoing in the words.  I’m clearly a slow learner.

When you realise your hands are empty, when you come to the end of yourself – that’s a good place, that’s when he can begin.

So this is my new piece of advice to myself:

Whatever you do, don’t try to row.

Grab hold of whatever strength you have left, and use it – to walk into his presence and to put up your sail.


And if you find there’s no wind today, no power to help you move forwards, don’t panic – it just means that today is a day to be still. To be still and know that you are you and God is God.

and that’s OK.

*This postcard was inspired by a great blog I follow written by theologian, teacher and asker-of-awkward-questions, Ian Paul… I painted the picture straight away and put it on the wall because I knew it was such an important bit of life to me –  you can read the original here.

Spacewalking: life in the wilderness.

I watched the movie ‘Gravity’ last night, have you
seen it? I rather enjoyed it in a heart-in-my-mouth sort of
way. There’s a scene in it where a space-suited hero is drifting,
cut loose in the vast emptiness of space, alone and helpless.
And I suddenly thought, “I know what that feels like”.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t have a secret previous life as an astronaut (!) but I have had a ‘spaceman’ time in my life,
a time when all the things I did, all the things I knew, all the
things that made me feel ‘me’ were emptied out and I felt as
adrift and powerless as the untethered spacewalker in my

I often think and write about the seasons of life. Seasons of light
and darkness, seasons of
celebration and of grieving, seasons of
work and seasons of rest. I love this from Ecclesiastes 3:1-5

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them

It tells me that this change from one season to another is a normal part of life.

My spaceman season was one of the hardest I’ve walked (or floated!)
through. In fact, it was less of a season and more of a space
between seasons – a wilderness.

I live in Nicosia, Cyprus, a city that has been divided for more than 40 years. The South is part of the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus and the Northern half is in the area occupied by Turkey since 1974. The city’s two halves now have very different peoples, cultures
and languages. It is possible to walk through from one
side to another (with your passport), but to do so you have to
leave one ‘side’ and walk through the ‘buffer zone’- a gap of
about a hundred metres of emptiness between the two sides:
abandoned streets and buildings, layered with 40 years of
dust. No one lives there and no one goes there. Nothing happens

My ‘walk’ from being a ‘normal’ person living in the UK
to being an expat person living in Cyprus felt very much like
a walk from one half of this city into the other. Eventually
I ended up in another place, with new friends and a new
understanding of what God is calling me to do. But for a while
there I was trapped in the emptiness of the buffer zone; in a
nowhere-space between places.

If you’ve been there, you’ll know how hard it is. There are lots of things that can happen to cause an emptying, a time where God strips away roles, tasks or relationships that have filled your time and given you a sense of purpose. There is a sense of grieving for the ‘place’ you
have left behind and uncertainty about what the place that lies
ahead will look like, and about how long it might take to get

I’d like to tell you about how marvellously I pressed into God when I was floating in space… but honestly?

I spent most of my first year in the wilderness confused,
frightened and very, very angry. It took me a long time to
turn and lean on Jesus.   When (about 14 months in) I eventually
calmed down enough and was able to ask God about the blank
sheet of emptiness, he showed me something very beautiful.
wildernessRight down in the corner of the blank sheet, I saw a tiny seedling. Something growing, something completely new. And I realised that the clearing, the emptying of my life had made space for new things
that there would never have been room for before.

Eventually I learned to look at the emptiness of
my wilderness and see it differently.

Instead of endless, terrifying nothingness (like my spaceman picture above), I began to see it as a blank sheet of artist’s paper on which God could ‘start again’ and paint something entirely new. The
emptying, painful though it is, makes room for a re-filling.
As my perspective changed I saw that emptiness is full of
potential, of endless possibilities. When you start to see it
that way, it’s just about possible to surrender to it, and maybe
even to embrace it.


This is something I wrote which sums up some of the things I learned in my wilderness. I wonder what you’ve learned in yours?

wildernesspoem small
reflect greens
For your journal: If you’re in a wilderness of some kind or another, write God a letter… tell him what it feels like to be in your wilderness. When we’re angry we often’punish’ God by not speaking to him. Break the silence!

Song of songs 8:5 asks “Who is this coming up from the
wilderness leaning on her beloved

What can you do in your wilderness to lean more on Jesus, so that when you come up out of it you will still be leaning?