For several years, I worked to become a proficient MC sailor. I read everything I could get my hands on about sailboat racing. I went out and bought a new boat, thinking that was the secret to sailing faster than others. I was so proud of that shiny new boat. I tried to keep up with the other sailors with boats that were far older and banged up, but they left me in their wake with little or no effort.
I watched how they steered their boats, how and when they hiked out of the boat to increase speed. I tried to understand when they tacked to get a fresh wind, what they were looking for and seeing. But for all my efforts, I still finished way back in the fleet. Sometimes I was so slow that I felt I needed to apologize to the committee boat for making them wait so long. Race after race, year after year, I tried, barely getting any improvement.
When I was almost at the bottom and feeling discouraged a member of the sailing club saw I was about to give up and he came over to give me a pep talk. I told him all things I tried to do to make my sailboat go faster, how I tried to keep up with the fleet. Larry just smiled and said he had been watching me whenever he had a chance after he; well in the lead; turned around a mark and could see where I was and what I was doing.
Larry saw how I was struggling, tacking from one side to the other just to get to the mark. He told me I was wandering all over the course, trying to catch the same wind that someone else had caught or hiking out on the side of my boat just because another sailor ahead of me did that. I still remember Larry’s advice to this day.
“Forget trying to copy others, focus on your boat, how it feels, how the wind shapes the sail, how your boat responses when you change your position in it, and to stop over-steering.”
I found that I had my hand so tight of the rudder, and so focused on other people, that I was not paying attention to what was important. I saw the wind and the waves as something that I could not control, so I over-corrected, turned to too soon, or too late or too often.
It took a little while for me to fully appreciate what Larry told me. What was important is to pay attention to what I am doing. How I respond to the wind and the waves. I learned to recognize that “I can’t change the wind, but I can adjust my sails.” I look at a plaque in my office that says that every day.
In Deuteronomy 2:3 there is brief but important phase from God to his people who were wandering around the mountains to “turn north”. This instruction to God’s people, lost in the wilderness, saved them. God told his people to go in a new direction.
When we are disoriented, facing north is often how we can find our sense of direction. If we know where north is, we can stop wandering around in circles.
The nautical term for reorienting yourself is called finding “True North”. “True North” is that magnetic center that allows us to know where we are and where we are going. Only when we reorient ourselves to God’s way, leave all our thoughts of trying to copy others, and thinking we have control over the world around us, can we hope to sense where God is calling us, and how we should respond during changing seas.