Burn the Ships

I’m homeschooling the Coconuts this year so that means I’m required to be able to answer questions that range from how to diagram a sentence to quantum physics with lightning speed. I’m over here pulling Algebra out of places in my brain that haven’t been accessed in 30 years. I’ve already consumed enough chocolate and coffee to have a caffeine high for the next 3 years. And we’re only halfway through the academic year.

But it’s worth it. At least that’s what I say over and over to myself while hiding in the pantry, sneaking chocolate and weeping because I can’t take one more argument with a certain 7-year-old know-it-all about all the various rules for why there’s an “E” at the end of certain words but not others.

And truthfully, I’m learning stuff. Especially stuff about numbers. For example, did you know that 11, 45, and 20 can be a fact family? I had no idea until I observed that it takes an 11-year-old 45 minutes to complete a 20-minute assignment. Because the first 25 minutes are spent whining about how long it’s going to take to complete, how hard it is, and how tired schoolwork makes her.

I’ve also learned that 9.06 is the seconds it takes for a 14-year-old boy to consume his weight in snacks while simultaneously attempting to convince me that essay writing is overrated, unnecessary, and of the devil. In addition to fancy new number meanings, I’ve also discovered that my 16-year-old is bilingual as she is fluent in sarcasm and that she knows literally everything. I actually have no idea why she still lives in our house.

But the other day something miraculous happened. This same certain 16-year-old came and asked me to help her (gasp!) with her history. In reality, she just wanted to torment me by making me sit in the middle of the laundry pile that her bed is hidden under and listen to her read aloud. Knowing moments like this can be few and far between, I plopped myself down in the quicksand of clean laundry, resisted the urge to start folding and tried to ignore the sinking sensation while doing my best to listen. Just as my eyes were beginning to glaze over, something she was reading caught my attention.

“Burn the ships.”

I realized she was studying Cortes, arguably one of history’s most ruthless conquerors. The story goes that when he landed on what we now call Mexico to overthrow the Aztecs and take their gold, he was militarily ill-equipped to do so. Reportedly, he only had about 600 men and limited armor rendering his plans seemingly impossible. Cortes, not easily deterred, did something completely crazy and according to history (whether true or not is debatable) had his men burn the ships after landing, thus effectively taking retreat off the table. There was no fallback. Either they had to conquer or die. Incredibly, his brazen plan worked, and they succeeded. 

Insane, right? Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. But it worked because there was no other option. And it made me think. What if there was no option for retreat or surrender for the important things in my life?

My marriage?

My children?

My relationship with others?

My relationship with Jesus?

In this weird moment in the middle of the tsunami of clothes on my teenager’s bed, I had this bizarre thought. 

I’ve got to burn my own ships.

Suddenly I realized that I had to destroy every ship that could sail me right out of the victory of what was really important. I had to start with the lifeboats called Justification and Contention that would ultimately lead to the cruise ship of Divorce. There were the rowboats of Anxiety and Comparison that absolutely had to be torched because they threatened to capsize my relationship with my kids. What about those houseboats of Apathy and Busyness that are always floating lazily around in the harbor of my flesh, enticing me away from prayer, from serving, from the will of God? I can’t leave those intact. It’s too much of a risk.

While I sat there consumed in my thoughts and hearing her read, yet no longer comprehending the words, I knew there was much more here than a history lesson for me. It is a lesson for all of us, if we are brave enough to learn it, that will affect the most important parts of our lives. 

The end of the year is upon us and like previous years, we’ve done a lot of big talking about all the goals we’re going to accomplish spiritually, relationally, emotionally. Just like before, we’ve made lists and strengthened our resolve. “This is the year!” We would boldly proclaim, “Victory is in our grasp!” yet within weeks, we find ourselves sailing back to the shores we had come from. Defeated. Adrift in our boats in a sea of regret with Rationalization as our navigator.

What if this time we burned the ships and removed all options of retreat? The last two years have reminded me that life is short and time is the most precious commodity we have.

And so for me, there will be no turning back. I’ve got a gas can, a bunch of matches, and a resolve that would rival Cortes. Because the things I’m fighting for are far more important than Aztec gold.

Even if it means an occasional trip to the pantry to hide from the teenagers and stress eat chocolate.

3 thoughts on “Burn the Ships

  1. I’ve always loved the ‘burn the ships’ allegory. Sometimes our best selves emerge when we truly have no choice, but to get to that level, we’ll first have to be brave enough to dive headfirst into things. Loved what you’d shared. Thanks for this!

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