There’s this old thought experiment invented and debated by many ancient Greek philosophers:
A boat is crafted and over the years at sea, boards rot and are replaced. Eventually, every splinter of the boat is new, leaving none of the original wood.
At which point does it become a new boat? Does it?
Our physical bodies are similar—scientists say that every seven years, the cells in our bodies are different than seven years ago. We are passing through matter the way a boat goes through planks.
The logic follows, then, that the thing that makes you YOU must be deeper than the molecules that make up your body.
There are also less tangible things that we think make us who we are: our name, our accomplishments, our desires, and our longings. We pass through seasons of life as a ship through the sea: sometimes the water is calm and we can sail through the night undeterred. Other times, the rogue waves cause our boards to creak and groan, often snapping under the pressure of our present circumstances.
The problem is, we often look at these storms as if they define who we are.
“I was berated by lust last night and acted out therefore I AM a failure.”
“I don’t deserve love because of what I’ve done.”
Your external circumstances and past actions affect you like a hurricane affects a ship: it may toss it around and cause some damage. The storm may tatter the sails and require hefty repairs. But, in the end, the hurricane is not the boat.
Don’t confuse the storm for the vessel.
What I mean is, you may have looked at porn last night or this morning or just a few minutes ago. But that episode does not define you.
You are more than the accumulation of mistakes you’ve made and the hurt you’ve endured. You may have taken on water and gotten some holes in your hull, but the water that’s entered does not define your ship.
The Apostle Paul uses a similar metaphor in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. On the surface, it seems like something we’ve all heard before, but read carefully. He starts out with:
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;”
The next sentence goes a little deeper:
“that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”
Again, for anyone who has been reading the Bible for a few years, this verse may not be earth-shattering. But if you look into the Greek behind the verse, what Paul wrote here is fascinating.
In fact, I feel like the modern translations do us somewhat of a disservice to the passage. The King James Version brings us closer to the target:
“…that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.”
The phrasing is reminiscent of the captain of a ship who has been sailing the seas for most of his life and has sea salt permanently trapped beneath his fingernails and west wind tangled into his hair. Paul is urging us to take mastery over our own boats.
He is urging us to take possession of our bodies, and in order to have control over ourselves, we first need to KNOW ourselves.
Before the captain of a ship can sail across the Drake passage, he first needs to know the vessel deeply and intimately. The same is true of our identities: how can we expect to control our actions if we don’t know who we are?
For several years of my life, I dreamed of sailing the world. I had dreams of meeting exotic women on foreign shores. Of wandering the waves as free as the tide itself.
I wanted to earn the golden hoop earring only worn by seamen who made the treacherous pass south of Cape Horn. I longed for that breed of adventure. I still do.
As I read that passage in 1 Thessalonians, a new longing came over me. A fresh desire to take mastery of my body the same way a captain of the sea does a vessel, without making excuses or blaming the weather.
To define my identity not by the storms I encounter, but by the God who created me.
When you realize that you are who gets to define you, incredible freedom can be found.
You’re not defined by:
- the opinions of others
- your past mistakes
- hurtful things people have done to you
- things you own (or don’t own)
- or anything else except who you are in Christ
How do we become more familiar with this integral self? One practical piece of advice is to make a practice of simply being. This means not doing anything. Not writing, praying, listening to music or podcasts, or even reading your Bible. Take time to just be. This trains your soul to not strive to accomplish things in order to be accepted by God.
God has already made you as you are—HE has given you the pieces which make up your ship and He has called it good.
The question is, will you take time to acknowledge this? To reflect on it and soak it in? Making a practice of this will reinforce your hull, reorienting our desires, so when the gusts of desire blow, they are slightly less powerful.
When we see ourselves properly—as we are, not conflated with the things we do or the things that happen to us—our longings for sexual gratification and other addictions begin to fade.
To some of you, this may seem like just another Purity-Movement-esque call to keep your V-card until you’re married and not look at porn. To me, it seemed more like an artful call to mastery over my own ‘vessel.’ It’s a profoundly masculine call to know ourselves deeply, to be aware of how our ‘ship’ functions on every type of water, and to steer her to safety.
Do you know your own ship?
Do you possess your own vessel, or are you blown hither and yon by every stray breeze of desire that comes your way?
The captain inside of me wants to be able to say, Yes, I have known and mastered myself. With the Holy Spirit, I can pilot myself away from the storm and into the holier waters. You can too.