What to do When the Boat is Sinking | Thoughts on Honesty, Control, and Letting Go

You’re in the middle of the ocean.

You’re the only person on the boat.

And, the boat is sinking.




This picture represents my greatest fear—complete isolation in the middle of the ocean. While this exercise may seem unnecessary or unproductive to some, wrestling with it has allowed me to come to grips with a hard truth. By placing myself in this scenario and actually going there emotionally, I realized that I’ve held on to far too many sinking ships and denied having done so.

The past couple of months have been a difficult season of reflection, but it was time to come clean. As a result, I have emerged energized and joyful, with this newfound perspective that I felt led to share.

Stop Idolizing the Boat

At the foundation of every human heart is the search for a savior from the enemies we face. This is precisely why we champion certain things while demonizing others. We build vessels for ourselves—temporary boats that become our hope in rough seas. The problem is, these “boats” become part of our identity—our faux saviors. This, of course, is the definition of idolatry.

Until we’re willing to expose our idols, we have no hope in overcoming them. However, the things you worship will make themselves known if you’re willing to be honest. They’re the things you talk about at parties. They’re what you’re most likely to defend. And if you’re still having a hard time pinpointing them, ask yourself what you’re most afraid of losing. You never know how much you trust in something until it’s gone.

There are those who believe that it is noble to go down with the ship—that they’ll be remembered as brave for drowning in honor. That’s not bravery, it’s pride. It’s kind of like the rich man who jumps off of a building because he thinks he’s lost everything. He hasn’t lost everything. He lost his money in the stock market. In his mind, money was his everything.

I’ve spent far too much time placing my hope in things that can’t save me. I’ve sought deliverance in my income, my spouse, my kids, my religion, people, and my own ability. The truth is, I overtly followed God, but I covertly positioned for my own rescue.

Searching for a Savior

You will have your own areas of focus, but for me, I identified these three key areas of surrender.

1. I sought entertainment as an escape from reality.

From college football to craft beer to Netflix bingeing, my desire for entertainment was often rooted in escaping reality. Entertainment is meant to be entertainment. When it becomes a balm to soothe the pain, it’s temporary relief at best. What I want is peace. When entertainment becomes obsessive, when I justify it, and when I neglect higher priorities to enjoy it, I’m worshiping it. That robs me of peace. I will not let a short-term buzz become a bad hangover laced with regret.

2. I placed people on the throne that belongs to God.

Whether it’s my spouse or my kids or my pastor or my boss or the latest best seller, I placed far too much hope in people. For years, I looked to others to bring me the affirmation that can only come from God. In addition, I elevated certain people based on their platform and I positioned myself to benefit from what they might give me. No man (or woman) can be the provision that is promised by my Creator. I am free to love people, but I will not worship them. The opinions of others will no longer control me.

3. I hoped in my own effort to save me.

This was the sneakiest idol of all. Maybe I read The Little Engine That Could too much as a child, or maybe I’ve listened to the banter of a crowd who shouts, “Keep going!” Either way, I have quietly placed too much confidence in my ability to get things done. Words like persistence and diligence are words to live by, but they are worthless without peace. The weight of my circumstances doesn’t rest on my ability to change them. The weights of my circumstances rests on the shoulders of One who promised to bear them.

What About the Boat?

There are those who won’t be able to get past the fact that the boat is sinking. But there will come a moment when the boat is out of sight and you’re alone treading water. At that point, the boat doesn’t matter.

Intimacy with God is found when you stop thinking about what you’ve lost and start thinking about all that He wants to give you. There’s a drastic difference in crying out to God in anger because life didn’t go the way you wanted it to and crying out to God in despair because you realize how far you are from Him. The color of the rescue boat is irrelevant.

As I look back on my life, I realize that many of my moments have been spent crying out to God in anger because my proverbial boat was sinking. The truth is, I wasn’t longing for God in those moments, I was longing for Him to replace the stuff it felt like I was losing. God was a means to my end.

I have slowly begun to realize that God is the end. But not only the end, He is the beginning. He is in each moment. And it’s in each moment where God asks us to empty our hands so we’ll be ready to receive all that He has prepared. We can’t leave our fingerprints on the world with clinched fists.

When you truly encounter God, you’ll stop bailing water from the sinking hull and learn to praise Him instead. Until then, you will remain indifferent, searching for momentary saviors from a world full of enemies. As I think about it, maybe that’s why He walked on water. To remind us that we never needed a boat to begin with.



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  • R Scott Wiley

    “The truth is, I wasn’t longing for God in those moments, I was longing for Him to replace the stuff it felt like I was losing.”
    You’ve hit the core of what I’ve been thinking. In fact this entire post resonates with me. God has been leading me to think more and more about the words “letting go.” Let go of the sinking boat and reach out for Him. Thank you for posting this.