How to Rock the Boat Without Drowning Anyone, Including Yourself

When my family goes canoeing (which isn’t often), I hear things like this:

“Nichole, sit down in the middle of the boat and I’ll push us out. Just…just sit down and remember to stay low.”

“Nichole, would you stop moving.”

“You want a turn rowing? OK. Hold on and let’s…no, no, wait!”

“Mom! Stop!”

“For crying out loud, Nichole! Are you trying to capsize us?!!!”

I guess some people were just made to rock the boat.

I was rocking the boat before I took my first breath. Babies who start out in a teenage girl’s womb usually do. Our very existence causes disruption, forcing issues and conversations no one wants to have: You did what? With who? Are you keeping it? How are you going to take care of it? Will you finish school? Get a job? Get married? Do you even love him? Who’s going to pay for all this?

I didn’t ask to ride into life on the wave of a storm I didn’t create. But it happened. I didn’t want to force difficult conversations and tough choices. But I did. Just by being.

Throughout my life, I’ve continued to make waves, intentionally and unintentionally, wherever I go. I bet some of you do, too.

“Don’t worry if you’re making waves simply by being yourself. The moon does it all the time.” Scott Stabile

Rocking the boat is easy. Finding a balance between splashing water around and drowning everyone on board is the real challenge. I don’t have all the answers, but through my experiences I’ve learned a few things.

So if you’re a wave maker and you’d like to learn how to affect change without drowning anyone, including yourself, here are some practical steps to keep you afloat:

1) Embrace Your Calling

Have you ever found yourself wondering “Isn’t there anyone else out there who cares?!” or “Why does it seem like I’m always the one speaking up?”

Me too. But there’s no outrunning your calling. I’ve tried to emulate my peacemaking friends who are sweet and warm and loved by everyone. I just ended up feeling stifled and frustrated. God had different plans for me.

I’m not advocating division and strife. However, there are times when we must speak up for the sake of a greater peace.

Are you a boat rocker? Embrace your calling! God has plans for you.

2) Acknowledge That You’re Ordinary

Face it. You’re ordinary. We all are.

Yes, you’re valuable. People love and need you, but even if they didn’t, you are God’s unique creation. You matter to Him.

But you are also just another human being – one in billions. And the world does not owe you a single thing.

The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be. That way, when discouragers pelt you with words like “Why would anyone listen to you? Don’t bother. Nothing is going to change anyway.” – you won’t be distracted. You won’t waste your time trying to prove yourself or justify your actions. Because you’ll already know the truth:

You are nobody special….but you were made to rock the boat.

Rosa Parks. Mother Teresa. Todd Beamer. The Guy at Tiananmen Square.

Just ordinary people making waves by their extraordinary actions. 

3) Accept the Fact that Not Everyone is Going to Like You

Nor are they going to always like what you have to say.

This is a hard one for me. I desperately want to be liked. So much so that every time I speak out I feel like I am risking my very soul.

A couple of weeks ago, God laid it on my heart (<— that’s a little Christian-ese for you) to write about how we Christians need to stop fashioning our churches into safe-zones where we can hide from the world.

Publishing that piece was scary. And yet, the message was burning its way through my heart and mind, into my fingertips and onto the screen before me. It had to be shared. Period.

So far, Is Your Church a Safe Place? Mine’s Not is my most popular post ever.

Still, not everyone liked it. The message may have upset a few people. And I’m OK with that.

4) Put People Before Programs and Causes

Almost every cause is rooted in our care and concern for others. Even our desire to protect the environment and animals stems from the essence of our humanity. In the beginning, God granted people authority over the earth and all His creatures. To treat either poorly, is to deny who we were created to be. We care about causes because we care about humanity.

So, for example, when you’re fighting to protect the unborn, refrain from bashing unwed mothers, women who’ve chosen abortion or even abortion doctors. They’re the people you are trying to help, remember?

When you are in the midst of the storm, remember those on the boat with you. Pause often and look into their eyes. Know them. Love them. Respect them. Understand them. Learn from them. And as much as it is up to you, don’t hurt them at the expense of a cause.

Who knows? One day they may just want to join you.

5) Choose Your Boats

God may call you to rock a lot of boats, but He doesn’t call you to rock every boat. (Oh man, if I spoke out every time I wanted to…)

I am continually asking God, “Is this something you want me to engage in?” And the bigger the consequences, the more I pray.

Which is why I prayed a bit differently when deciding to participate in a Q&A panel about homosexuality and Christianity than when considering whether or not to inform the grocery store customer service associate that I saw a mouse run across the produce floor.

Stop. Pray. Listen. Choose your boats.

6) Rock Don’t Roll (most of the time)

Most of the time, you’ll want to rock the boat, not tip it over.

Why? First, you can’t sail the ship alone. Second, you want to minimize damage to people, relationships and your cause. Third, roll the boat and you go under, too.

The good news is that you often only need to reach one or two people to begin making a difference.

So, let’s say that one day you discover your child’s elementary school friends attended a school function drunk (yes, elementary school). You don’t know the parents very well and you don’t want your daughter to be ostracized for “snitching”. Perhaps you might confidentially talk with the school administrator and allow him or her to work directly with the families instead.

Of course, there may be rare occasions when you need to roll the whole ship into the water – like when you discover that your housing cooperative is actually just an apartment complex cleverly disguised and marketed as a cooperative by local and state governments and private developers in order to circumvent the legal demands of the estate that donated the land in the first place.

In that case, go ahead. Flip the boat. They’ve got life jackets, right?

7) Don’t Always Go it Alone

Ever feel like you’re making waves to warn of an oncoming storm while everyone else is below deck, tipping back martinis and indulging in the midnight buffet?

Making waves is hard work. Find one or two people who will stand arm-and-arm with you. They may not be as vocal as you, but they can provide support in other ways – offering advice, networking, prayer, providing administrative help, praying for you and just listening.

Together, you just might be able to dump those corrupt developers into the ocean.

8) Be Part of the Solution

Remember, if you rock the boat – and especially if you flip it over – there will be fallout. Don’t make waves and Jet-Ski out of there. Unless God clearly calls you elsewhere, stick around and help.

Did you encourage your friend to keep her baby rather than have an abortion? Offer to attend birthing classes with her or help out when she brings baby home.

Did you insist a corrupt PTO president resign? Pick up some of the administrative duties while the board searches for a replacement.

9) Rest

Making waves can be exhausting. Rest.

Recently, I attended a conference that was making waves all over the place. As a member of the conference’s steering committee, I invested significant amounts of physical, emotional and spiritual energy in the program. (Though many invested far more than I.)

The first night, during prayer, the young man leading the conference encouraged us to ask God how He wanted to bless us that weekend. Guess what I heard God say to me? “Rest, Nichole, and let me love you. You have been pouring yourself out for Me, for others, for this event. Stop. Rest and let Me fill you.”

Stop. Rest. Let Him fill you.

10) Keep Rocking Even When You Don’t See Change 

When you’re sitting in the boat, you can’t always see the impact of the waves. Remember that the force ripples out for miles, stirring up sand, disturbing other vessels and eventually reshaping the shoreline.

Consider a tsunami, the force of which is almost imperceptible to human eyes until it encounters resistance at the continental shelf. At which point, the wave swells, eventually towering over people, houses and trees, leveling miles of coastline, transforming entire towns and cities.

That’s a bit of a destructive example, but you get my point. Waves are powerful. They make a difference. Even when you don’t see the results right away.

So go ahead. Rock the boat. Make waves. Just by being you.

Written for the Writing 201 Instructional assignment.

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9 thoughts on “How to Rock the Boat Without Drowning Anyone, Including Yourself

  1. I loved reading this, especially as i’vebeen known as “the boat rocker” of the family. Haha, i guess every family has one of those. But I really connected with this postin a light hearted way.

    • Thanks Kaygy. I appreciate the feedback. I was hoping to present a somewhat challenging topic in a meaningful yet lighthearted way, so I’m glad that was your experience!

  2. Loved this post, because I totally relate……learning to be content being ordinary and realizing that ordinary people are the ones around when people need help.

    Once, long ago, the elders of a church we were part of came for a home visit; we’d been having some issues. I loved these guys despite our disagreements and when they were leaving, I said, “I guess I’m always going to be the thorn in the flesh for someone.” The reply? “Well,we all have our roles to play.” !!
    It’s not that I mean to be difficult; it’s just that truth is very, very important to me, and since people are very, very important to me as well, I have to be careful always to share truth in love – about the most difficult thing in the world to me, because I tend to be a steamroller sometimes.

    Nichole, I think we could be good friends! Thanks again, so much, for what you write.

    • Hello again! Thanks for sharing about yourself. It is quite the balancing act and I’m not sure I ever get it quite right but I try. Sometimes, even when the truth is spoken in love and with grace, it can still hurt. That’s hard.

      I think we could be good friends too! I am enjoying getting to know you 🙂

  3. Nichole…You showed me a side to your soul that God has gifted you with. You continue to be a blessing to me whether in word or deed! Thanks again for sharing! Love it as always!

  4. Yup…it is not easy being a rock and roller!!! I’m thankful for friends and “thorns” like you Nichole…you make us all better by being you…helping us question more deeply instead of sleepwalking through life. Thanks for the post and for being you!

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