Did you ever hear of the phrase "burn the ships"? It originated from the mission of Hernan Cortes back in 1519. As he and his conquistadors were about to meet their battle, he gave his men the order to burn the ships. Cortes knew that the only way to keep himself or his men from quitting the mission was to take the option of retreat off the table. He decided that to burn their ships meant there was no looking back, no retreat, no choice but to move forward, despite all risks.
I have been spending a lot of time and energy lately looking back at my past. I have discovered repetitive patterns in myself that are unpleasant. When I was very young, whether due to circumstances around me or due to my inner make-up/personality, I became a person whose aim in life was to help people and to do whatever I could to take away or prevent pain and discomfort. I cared deeply for the people around me, and I had a generous demeanor and wanted peace and absence of conflict no matter what sacrifice it would cost me.
My parents fought a lot. In living up to my role of harmonizer, I would help out with my younger sister, keep my room extra clean, and hold in my own hurts or fears so that I wouldn't make things worse. When I was in my teens, I had a "dual personality." I would get "straight A's" in school, volunteer to help those in need, make dinner and clean up, and share everything I owned with whoever wanted to borrow it. On the other hand, I had a "hidden wild side." I lied to my parents about where I was going when I said I was sleeping over at a girlfriends house; I would host parties at my home when my parents were away on vacation; sneak out on road trips into the city or to the Jersey Shore.
This dichotomy became my way of living. I wanted to have fun, be free, and take risks, but I also wanted everyone around me to be happy, proud of me, and see me as a helpful advocate. Over time, this pattern became hard to uphold inside my spirit. I began to feel the effects of dishonesty and putting on an image that wasn't authentic.
Fast forward to my late forties. I went to a general-themed twelve-step group (which is for anyone who struggles with a "hurt, habit or hang-up" that affects your life or your relationships). Through the stories shared and the lessons in the curriculum, I suddenly saw that nearly a half a century of unhealthy habits in my relationships intended to help and love the people around me had actually contributed to great destruction and discouragement.
I learned the definition of codependency, which is "an excessive emotional, physical, and psychological reliance on a relationship that is dysfunctional. Codependents believe that their needs should be sacrificed for others, regardless of the consequences". I learned about healthy boundaries. According to Dr. Henry Cloud, "Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom." I learned that I needed to create new patterns of honesty, transparency, and genuine care within my most important relationships, which might entail confrontation and even resisting the urge to help someone who could and should be helping themselves. I learned that I need to be responsible for my own choices and do not take responsibility for others' unhealthy habits or preferences.
Fast forward to today. I am now fifty-three years old. I have invested years studying codependency and personal boundary issues, and I have come to a place where I am ready to "burn the ship" of the habits that have seemed to "hold me together" for decades. What I thought was "keeping the peace" and "caring for others" was actually diminishing myself and causing problems in relationships. I now see that I need to let go of those habits and perspectives for good. It feels risky to let go of who I have known myself to be for so long because then who am I going to be, and will people even recognize me or want to stay in a relationship with me? But, at this point, the higher risk is to stay in those unhealthy patterns and be stuck on that "ship" of dysfunction. So, I am moving forward into the battle and risk of people misunderstanding me, maybe even being hurt by "the new me."
A few weeks ago, on the blog, Sharon shared with us a prayer that she wrote called, "Putting on the Armor of God." There is one section in it that says, "I am putting on my spiritual boots. Help me stand and walk in Your peace and to move forward in ways that bring Your peace and love to others. Help me to walk away from the things of my past and walk confidently towards You." In Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua, who was Moses' assistant, is given the task of leading Israel into the Promised Land. This is a daunting task with considerable risk and responsibility. In that brief section of scripture, three times, God repeats to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous" and "I will not leave you or forsake you." God knew that Joshua was afraid to leave behind what was familiar and how daunting the thought of "going it alone" was for him. But He reassured Joshua, plainly and directly, that he didn't need to accomplish this great task on his own strength or power. He commanded Joshua to move forward with courage.
I know that God is calling me forward to a healthier life, more thriving, and connected relationships. There is no looking back, no retreat, despite any perceived risk. In this going forward, I know that God will provide me with all of the strength and courage that I need, and that He will not leave me nor forsake me. On the contrary, He has blessings and growth in mind for me. I know that it is not actually risk that is on the other side of this decision, but freedom, real connection, healthier relationships, and ultimate JOY.
What about you? Do you have any "ships" you need to think about burning? Do you trust that on the other side of that letting go and not looking back you can experience true freedom and growth in God's will for your life? Do you believe that Gods got your back, and He's going to be with you all the way?