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Keeping afloat

Sarah Dean

Throughout my career I have worked for a small organisations and I am a big advocate for choosing to keep an organisation small rather than scaling up or growing too fast. When you are small, you can be like a sailing boat tacking through a sea of tankers and cargo ships. The bigger corporations can take months, if not years, to change their course. Most days when the wind in the right direction, the sun glinting on the water, it's great to be aboard and part of a small crew.

I'd apologise for this extended nautical analogy except for the fact I am enjoying it too much. As a kid I had Swallows and Amazons on pretty much permanent loan from the library, plus I managed to capsize and sink a Laser dinghy for a Guide badge once, so shive me timbers, I'll keep going.

When an unexpected storm blows up, a small and experienced crew can respond quickly and navigate away safely, except when the Skipper has had to go below due to sickness and the Boatswain and the First Mate are on shore leave. This has been my exact situation at work in recent weeks, except for shore leave read maternity leave. With only half a crew, even with all hands to the decks, it's been far from plain sailing.

With the biggest project of the year looming, I'd love to say I have stepped up to cover my boss's absence with calm and focus, steering the organisation through choppy waters and stormy seas. Instead, with limited energy and wisdom to support our depleted team, I have found myself shouting emptily over the raging storm: 'Hold on everyone! Just hold on!'

At Sunday school we sang 'With Jesus in the boat, you can smile at the storm'. I haven't been smiling recently. In fact during this testing time, I haven't really noticed Jesus asleep in the bottom of the boat, I've been too busy desperately bailing and shouting instructions to others in an effort to keep afloat. Eventually when things got a bit calmer at work - the relief vessel of temps and cover staff appeared on horizon - my exhausted default was to sink into regret about how I could have done things better, been kinder and more supportive, less fraught and less terse in the middle of a crisis.

Just in the nick of time Romans 7 was thrust under my nose. Much of this chapter is basically Paul repeatedly stating how he wants to follow God's laws, but keeps doing stupid selfish stuff, especially under pressure. 'I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do. I do the things I hate.' This all sounded rather familiar. Paul's confession of failure and weakness to the Christians in Rome is resolved by the really famous bit at the start of Romans 8: 'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...'

After Paul wrote this letter, he experienced rough seas on the way to Rome and was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Acts chapter 27 seems to suggest he and his fellow travellers rather forgot Jesus was in the boat with them too - 'The storm was very bad, and we lost all hope of being saved.' If St Paul himself struggled to inspire and find hope in a crisis and stormy seas, then there is hope for the rest of us me hearties!