There is a well-known quotation and perhaps you have heard it before. It reads, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This saying from 1928 or so has been applied to all sorts of conditions and challenges.
Whether used in reference to a company, a restaurant menu, or our own personal lives, the meaning is generally the same. We are wise to remember to move along in life and not get stuck; to be willing to take risks and go out on a limb; and to understand that if we stay put and don’t change a thing, potential cannot be fulfilled.
We can likely think of numerous examples of when someone or something played it too safe and opportunities were not only lost, but the future itself became bleak as a result. Blockbuster. Sears. The Pullman Company. Woolworths. Borders. Kodak. They are gone or nearly gone. Why? They stayed in safe harbor. They played it so safe they lost sight of reality.
As human beings, we were not created to stay in safe harbors throughout our lives, but made to venture out onto the wild and risky wide-open sea. We are made to ride large swells, have salty spray hit our faces, and we are equipped to make it through stormy passages. It is evident that our creator, God, often calls us to head out and go, to move beyond what we can see or predict and to live our lives with a spirit of adventure, curiosity, and wonder.
But before I get more into this, I need to offer a few remarks, an essential caveat. Part of being human is to have periods in our lives in which we feel like everything is turned upside down. Whether due to sickness, unemployment, living well beyond a spouse and friends, the vestiges of aging, dealing with death, and loss, a huge life transition, managing a growing family that is going in a million directions, or just plain old heartache, to live is to be like a turtle that is flipped on his or her back.
To be human means there are those passages we find ourselves in positions we don’t like, circumstances that make us scared, frantic, sad, worried, or confused, or happenings that cause us to want to give up or make us feel like we just want to be done with it. I’ve been there. You’ve been there or maybe you are there right now, and I get it.
When we are in such places, sometimes what we need most is to grab onto what is familiar, turn to what we have known, rest in what has been, and relax in the presence of others like a warm blanket on a cold day.
Sometimes we need that meal we’ve eaten for years, to hear that old hymn, read the King James version, sit in a chair that has been shaped to fit who we have become, go to the one street in town that has not changed so much and take a walk, reminisce, pull out an old album, turn the pages of the scrapbook, take a long nap, drive down what remains of Route 66, write a letter by hand, or simply journey back in time in our minds and remain for as long as we need.
Said another way. We may be ships that are made to be out on the water, but sometimes we just need to go to a safe harbor and stay for a while.
And not only is that ok, but it can be exactly what God wants us to do. It’s why Jesus one day said to a crowd, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Stillness, peace, familiarity, a sense of security, resting, or docking in a protected marina may be where we need to be for a while, and that is more than ok.
So with all of this in mind, I’d like to get back to the idea that we were made not to spend our lives in safe harbor, but to get out onto the open sea.
Throughout scripture, whether in the Old or New Testaments, God has this clear habit of saying things to people like, “Move on, let’s go, get going, don’t stay where you are, don’t stay put, time for you to grow, time for a change, you need to loosen your grip, stop pondering, act, you need to get out of here, go, go, go.” With just two letters, you can sum up one of the key plot lines of the Bible. G. O. God says go all the time.
And God sends this message to people despite youth, lack of experience, age, low confidence, feeling tied down, burdened or trapped, piles of unanswered questions, fear, long held ways of looking at things, temperament, skill sets, or degree of faith.
Every one of us holds onto some things, ways of being or looking at things. We each cling, grasp, and grip. As followers of Jesus, I believe it is imperative we regularly ask ourselves why, to what end, and for what purpose?
Why do I insist on this? Why do I require that? Why is this way of looking at … so important to me? Why do I hold so tightly to…? What is it that makes us feel secure and safe? Where is this need to clench coming from?
Our answers may help us embrace what is helpful, cause us to be more faithful to God, and live more fully. But our answers to such questions may also help us realize there are some things, ways of being, ways of thinking and ways of living we may need to release, to let go of, in order to move forward and flourish.
This is why it is critical for us to explore such questions as, “Where might I be stagnating? Where am I stuck? What am I resisting that keeps coming to mind? What unknowns get to me? Where is it in life that I have a sense that God might be saying, “Go, let go, get going, release, move on, embrace what is next, turn to a new way of being and looking at things.”
I believe that God is pretty clear with us. There are times to go to safe harbor and remain a while. There are times to head out into the open sea. But in general, God knows that we are made for lives of adventure, to head out, to move on, and to let go and grow.
So when it is all said and done, maybe what God is saying to us through all of this is, “Pay attention. Take the time to wake up and open your eyes. Spend the energy again and again and again figuring out where your ship needs to be.
Do you need to head out to sea and let go and go? Do you need come in and take some time in safe harbor? Have you spent time in safe harbor long enough?” I believe God wants us to ask ourselves with intention, “Is it time to head out or is it time to head in?”
But regardless of how we answer such questions. Despite how we might feel about where we are at the moment. No matter what it is we feel we are being called to do, remember this. God is in every safe harbor. God is out on every open sea. And God is waiting for you and for me over the horizon in a world we have yet to see.