Burning boats

I love the image of burning boats. Burning boats is  what I’m good at, and what I long to do. The phrase  means you deliberately create a situation in which you have to move forward, and can’t go back.  There’s absolutely no way back once you’ve done it – it originates, supposedly, from Cortés  who burned his boats when he reached Mexico, so that his men would be totally committed to his expedition and their new life.

But I just love the image and the idea of it because it means freedom from the now of my life, it means I could deliberately blank the whole damn story-so-far out of my mind.  I’m aware that I might waver at some point, being weak,  so I might need to disgrace myself completely to be sure of never being allowed back – and if that’s what’s required, then, what the hell, I’ll do that too. Imagine that. How liberating to burn your boats in defiance.

How liberating to say ‘to hell with the whole damn thing’.

That’s the wrestle I have at the moment. There. I’ve said it. Please don’t send me your wisdom and your solutions, I don’t want them and they don’t apply. They’ll just make me  swear a bit. As I struggled with and prayed about this huge temptation yesterday evening, I found, I think, maybe, a sort of key to this self destructive, defiant  ‘up yours!’ instinct: By the age of 16 I had lived in 12 different places, and if I bring that forward to today… well, in my 70 years I have lived in 36 places, and that’s not including those where I spent less than a year. I am almost rootless.

My only root, my tap root I suppose, going down deep into the earth, is Christ.

And as for people giving us roots, I don’t remember my Mum, my dad was a stranger, my only close adult relationship was with my husband and he died after just 14 years.

So I am not good at roots. Or to put it another way, I don’t find it easy to belong. I long to belong. But it’s a foreign concept really.

Why is burning my boats such a tempting idea when belonging is so desirable too? There’s an upside to being rootless (almost). Let’s say ‘rootless in this world’ and forget eternity for a moment. You can burn your boats very easily when you’re no one’s priority. There’s a sort of freedom, as well as an ache, in knowing that you will never again be anyone’s priority – that there will always be really valid reasons why Arbuthnot can’t visit, and Clementina hasn’t rung – after all they have wives to romance or husbands to dance with or families to nurture. All these reasons are good and they’re even demanded in the Bible. Husbands, cleave to your wives! Wives, be faithful to your husbands. Fathers, provide for your families. So in a Biblical setting, in sermons and readings and prayers, these great strictures just underline that you’re on your own, matey.  You’re on your own with a million others.

Weird, eh? Me and a billion million others. And what you don’t have, you long for. Thus I long to belong. To just about anyone, really. I’m not proud.

When I think of  devoted couples, and I know several, I feel a painful sort of tenderness. One day one of them will die and leave the other where I am now. That’s a sad sad thought. Of course they may have family, and that will be some consolation, but they will be alone, without their other half. They’ve become one and one day they’ll be split apart. They don’t yet know how hard it will hit them, they have grown into each other’s skin, melded into each other’s bones, share each other’s dreams. One day, boats-burnt amputation.

But oh, if I could just turn back the clock five years, ten years, grow a thicker skin, a carapace… if I could just shrug off the situation I’m in right now. What a temptation.  I so want to burn my boats, to regret the last few years, the commitments I’ve made, the belief I’ve embraced. But I can’t. Try as I might, God won’t let me go. I can’t unknow what I know. I can’t deny what I’ve realised. I can’t say I have no Saviour when He’s right here, holding me tight.

But apart from God… everyone else? I want to upset everyone so they’ll never talk to me again, and then carry on my merry way, knocking over icons and trampling on kindnesses. I want to be selfish and blithe and, most of all, absent.

And then, yesterday, just when I needed it the most, I heard a sermon about surrender. I heard that belonging is a two way thing. It’s not all sentimental and lovey dove and make-belief. It’s more than my beloved pendant bearing the word ‘belong’. I don’t only belong to God, I belong to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

That’s a bit of a bummer when you’re in the mood I’m in.

I belong to them? “If your life is surrendered to the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to God and to the other members of the body.”

So, I can’t burn my boats or my bridges. Pretend indifference. Whistle into the wind. I have to stay and learn, and submit, and rejoice and grow.


As the lyrics go in poor old Fagin’s song… “I think I better think it out again!”


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