In his 1994 classic, The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald retells the true tale of a popular American Yachtsman, Michael Plant. It’s a story that has burrowed deep into my soul.
In the autumn of 1992, Plant commenced a solo crossing of the North Atlantic from the United States to France.
When they gathered for his send-off, no one had reason for anxiety, for they were waving good-bye to a sailing phenom. Plant was universally acknowledged as an expert yachtsman whose sea-faring skills were second to none.
But two weeks into his voyage something went amiss. Plant and his sailboat were lost at sea. Everyone who knew him was shocked. His mid-sized sailboat, the Coyote, was state of the art. He had just purchased a brand new 406-megahertz emergency position-indicating radio beacon capable of transmitting his position to a satellite.
Plant had everything…the best of expertise, experience, and equipment. But eleven days into his voyage radio contact was lost. A search was launched. Days passed with no signals or sightings. What had gone wrong?
And then the shocking news…the Coyote was found floating upside down, with no sign of Plant.
Sailboats do not normally capsize. They are built to take a pounding. As the most natural of all sailing vessels, it will always right itself even if a wind or wave were to momentarily push it over. But the Coyote was upside down…why?
The answer was tragically simple. For a sailboat to remain upright and harness the tremendous power of the wind, there must be more weight below the waterline than above it.
Bolted to the Coyote’s keel was an 8,000-pound weight, the kind of ballast below the waterline that assured stability when the storms blew.
But when the Coyote was found, its four-ton keel was missing. It had somehow come loose and broke off. The boat’s stability was fatally compromised. There was no weight below the waterline. Disaster was inevitable.
MacDonald uses this vivid anecdote to remind us that just as the Coyote needed a weight below the waterline to ensure stability, we need spiritual ballast below our personal waterline, at the level of the invisible soul, if we are to survive the temptations and troubles of life.
Do you know someone whose life cratered because there was no weight below the waterline of their soul? We all do. Business “indiscretions,” moral failures, secret addictions…and the soul is compromised.
Sub-waterline issues seem unimportant when our life seas are calm, and the winds are favourable. But the spiritual masters remind us that appearances above life’s waterline matter little in God’s eyes. Our bank accounts, homes, clothes, degrees, positions…they are of no consequence at the end of the day. For the Scripture tells us,
“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Jesus knew the weighty matters of life are always adjudicated in the courtroom of the soul.
He once said, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
I remember in the early days of my following Christ when he put his finger on a series of past transgressions that deeply convicted me. It was a pivotal soul-test of my willingness to either embrace or reject his Lordship. It would mean humbling myself and making restitution for various past sins that were gnawing at my conscience.
I humbled myself. The obedience test was passed. Ballast below the waterline of the soul formed, and my ship of life righted. I sailed on free and clear into the brilliant sunshine of Christ’s harbour.
For many, the space below the waterline of the soul is tragically neglected. But it is here that convictions are birthed, values are formed, and our defining, life-long habits develop.
Pursuing excellence as Corpath members in our spiritual lives means paying attention to what’s below the waterline of our lives, at the level of our soul.
Today we call it the “interior life.” If we are paying attention to our inner life, we will be open to honestly respond to the question from God, or from one of our friends, “How is it with your soul?” It’s a question we should ask more often.
And how do we develop soul-ballast? May the words of Jeremiah resonate with each of us in the coming ahead,
“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)