By Elizabeth Prata
For two years in the 1990s I was a live-aboard yachtsman on a 37 foot sailboat. My husband and I sailed from Maine to the Bahamas and back, twice.
You might have heard about the Florida “snowbirds” who travel from some northern snowy state to Florida for the season to escape the cold. Liveaboard yachtsmen do that too, but aboard their own boats. We’d decided to give it a try, since my husband had sailing experience from owning a schooner in previous years. Solo sailing (“singlehanding” in the yachting lingo) is hard and only for the intrepid, but when I appeared on the scene he decided that the time was right and the two of us went off into the sunset.
The route you take goes down the Intracoastal Waterway that ribbons just inside the ocean along most of the eastern seaboard of the US, and when you get to Florida, you jump across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. For some, the Bahamas is a staging area for their more serious cruise to even further islands such as Jamaica or even hopping down to the islands off Venezuela.
For others like us, the Bahamas was as far as we went. If you’re following the season, that’s the most southerly you go before turning around and tracking the warm weather back up to the coast of the US. For us, our cruising terminus was the Bahamas. We spent the winter playing and sailing in the azure Bahamian waters. Eventually we made our way down to Georgetown, Exuma.
This is an enormous harbor that can hold hundreds of boats. One local said that at peak in the sailing season, up to 400 boats anchor inside the nooks and crannies of the different anchorages, and it’s like a city on the sea.
When winds kick up, you see the [boats] move with synchronicity to different corners of the harbor or tuck inside the protected, nearly landlocked coves. While protected areas abound, inside the main harbor can get windy, causing dinghy rides to be wet and rugged.Elizabeth Harbour
And it’s where we were when the Storm of the Century blew through. We were anchored in peak season with hundreds of other boats around us, lazing our days away in the main harbour when the hundred-mile-an-hour winds came and blew our 23,000 boat with its full iron keel to its side like a matchstick. Other boats dragged into each other, tangling from their anchor ropes to the top of their masts. It was scary and it was a mess.
What was also a mess was the emotional aftermath.
The harbour is protected, but it’s big. The local man above noted that when it’s windy, a dinghy ride to land is wet and rugged. It’s also dangerous. If the current is aligned with the wind, you can be swept out to sea. A dinghy is a small boat with a 2 or 5 hp motor, used just from shuttling you from your anchored boat to the land.
That was our situation in the aftermath of one of the worst storms to hit the US Eastern Seaboard in recent memory. After the main storm blew itself out, the remaining winds were too rough and remained too dangerous for us to hop into our dinghy and motor to land.
So husband and I had experienced the normal tensions of a married couple traveling 2500 nautical miles together day in and day out, then experienced the worst and scariest storm a mariner had experienced in a hundred years (boats, tugs, and ships at sea were lost), and now we had no release for our pent-up tensions.
We were stuck with each other, stuck on the boat, and had nowhere to go. FIGHT!
We fought, gave the cold shoulder, fought again, were passive aggressive to each other, and retreated to corners, again and again over the 7 days this lasted. We were not saved, so we had only our selfish and depraved selves to handle this emotional issue. Eventually we got through it, but neither of us ever forgot the depth of anger and the frustration of not being able to leave. Being stuck in proximity with people who grind your gears is deeply annoying.
Like the Corinthians. And the Ephesians. The Thyatirans, those at Pergamum. They had emotional issues with each other. (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13). They had serious doctrinal issues between them. (Revelation 2:14, 20). They fought! Notably, Euodia and Syntyche who had helped Paul at Philippi, were pleaded with to stop fighting. (Philippians 4:2–3). There were hurt feelings, (2 Corinthians 2:4), divisions and factions (1 Corinthians 3:4) and more. People are people, even if they are saved. We’re human and feelings get hurt.
But the difference between then and today is that when people today co-exist in a church family with people who grind their gears, they leave and go to the church next door or down the street. Those folks HAD to work it out. When they received a letter from Paul…or John…or Jesus, they couldn’t storm off in a huff. There literally was nowhere else to go.
I see calls for unity today. Unity among brethren, unity among local church members, unity among denominations. I see even secular people calling for political unity, social unity and so on. Calls to true Christian unity are always good. Paul pleaded for that. But the word unity means different things to different people, even among Christians.
JI Packer says that unity is important because God deems it important. Christ prays that all His disciples everywhere at all times will be one- one in their fellowship with Him, and one in their life together. It means acknowledging we share in the same love of the Savior, the same power of the Holy Spirit and the worship of the same Heavenly Father. It’s a unity the world can see. It transcends cultural differences, ethnic differences, age differences, socio-economic differences, because this unity is heavenly and transcends earth. It comes from above.
However, unity does not mean ignoring doctrinal error, heterodoxy, or sin. Glossing over those things does not bring unity, it brings disease to the body. If it is true unity, it brings glory to God.
We should stay with our church family. Your blood family is yours forever, you share DNA. Just so, we share something even more precious than fleshly blood and DNA with our family of origin, we share Christ’s blood and heavenly grace from the Father of all Christians. We remain unified not just because there isn’t anywhere else to go, but because it brings glory to God to continue to love the way Christ loves and remain where He has planted you. (Unless the pastor or elders are preaching, practicing, or ignoring sin; or preaching error).
That week on the boat when my husband and I were in disunity, was extremely uncomfortable. It threatened our marriage. It made a deep wound. It was 25 years ago but I still remember it today. Disunity hurts, it should hurt the Christian even more than the secular person, because it robs Jesus of glory in His church and is a sin against the Father.
I should, you should, we all should…pursue unity. TRUE unity among brethren. It satisfies, it gives God glory, it has eternal reverberations.
Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:14).