While the only things I have experience burying are my children in sand and a dead guinea pig, I have found myself praying that I would learn to bury the boat. Allow me to explain.
Columba was an Irish abbot who left His native Ireland with twelve men to bring the Good News to the Picts, a group of pagan peoples in Scotland. He founded the abbey on Iona which would become a vibrant center of literacy and faith for centuries to come. Supposedly, after reaching Scotland in his animal hide wrapped wicker boat (called a currach), he burned it, knowing that he and his companions might be tempted to leave when life became uncomfortable or dangerous.
Upon reading of his act of commitment in burning the boat, I have found myself noticing how often I like to keep my options open, just in case. One of the hallmarks of the Millennial generation is an aversion to commitment, as seen in the silly slang FOMO (fear of missing out) and the more serious struggle to commit to a marriage or a career. In a world full of options and potential paths, we seem to have a hard time picking one and remaining on it.
While the fear of commitment has been heightened of late, it is nothing new. When Christ was initially calling His disciples to follow Him and learn His way of life, He found himself facing would-be disciples with similar struggles.
“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father…”
Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Luke 9: 59 & 61.
While initially these sound like understandable requests, it is helpful to understand that the first man’s father may not have even been dead or close to dead. The phrase “let me bury my father” was often used in an idiomatic way to express, “Let me get my family and personal life in order.” Read as such, the first would-be disciple was essentially saying, “Sure, maybe later, once I…”
Both men seem to respond with a desire to follow but a procrastination to commit. Jesus’ response to them speaks to all of humanity in every age, but has a particular poignancy in our age.
“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… No one who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 60 & 62.
Jesus did not mince words, nor did he lessen the cost of discipleship. He did not lower the bar or paint a rosy picture of a life spent following and proclaiming Him to widen His audience or make more palatable a hard pill to swallow. He gave full disclosure, yet He knew the sweetness and rewards of such a life would far exceed the inconvenience and discomfort.
In essence, when we decide to follow Jesus, we must burn (and keep burning) the boat. Tensions and awkward situations, renunciations and reviling will meet you on this path; you will be tempted first to look back and then to turn back to an easier way of life with self at the center. From the outset, Jesus asks that we commit to Him.
While this sounds overwhelming and almost impossible, we must remember that the One who asks for a commitment to Himself, His Word and His ways has fully committed Himself to us.
Before we were born, before time was wound, He had already decided He was all in. He knew He would leave it all to give it all so we could have it all in Him. He left us with the Third Person of the Trinity, one who calls alongside us from close beside us, coaching us, convicting us, comforting us.
By His grace and His empowerment, may we be those who burn the boats that might allow us to turn back to a comfortable and cross-less life. May we fix our eyes on Him who has gone before us once. May we take courage in His constant commitment to us as seen through His promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).