The tip of the iceberg: Being mindful of what’s below the surface

By Sam Doerksen

Have you ever heard anyone use the saying “that’s just the tip of the iceberg”? I’m sure we all have and maybe we have said it ourselves. Whenever I hear someone refer to the tip of the iceberg my mind goes to the historical story of the Titanic. The iceberg that was seen was literally only the “tip of the iceberg.” It was the part of the iceberg that was unseen that sunk the supersized ship that was said to be unsinkable.

As ministry leaders we meet many people. Do you ever wonder what people are dealing with deep down? I sure do. What are the things that are unseen? Two things that caught my attention about the maiden voyage of the Titanic were the vulnerability of the ship and the strength of the iceberg.

To give an example of what’s underneath, have you had occasion to see someone at the grocery checkout become agitated over a very simple matter? Maybe the store did not have their favourite flavour of coffee and had simply run out but there would be more tomorrow. The customer reacts in such a way that is out of proportion. Now, I realize that coffee is actually very important for many of us! And when they don’t have it, we can feel upset, but usually we can contain our disappointment. One has to wonder, then, why such a reaction? What is it that is unseen? There must be something else going on in their lives that causes the overreaction. There is most likely frustration, disappointment or perhaps pent-up anger from another source.

In this case, the “what’s below the surface” is negative.

In 1 Corinthians 3:11, we read, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Paul reminds us that we are servants – servants of Christ.

Let’s consider Paul’s advice. What if what’s below the surface, or “below the waterline” as Gordon MacDonald suggests in his book, is our unseen strength and not just the things we hide due to embarrassment, guilt, failure, frustration or any other negative accounts?

John Wesley once said, “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake more work than I can go through with perfect calmness of spirit.” When I have not scheduled my time wisely, I easily become annoyed by everything around me.

The portion of the iceberg that no one else sees in us is most significant. While others may not see what we are struggling with, they will feel or sense the effects of it.

Living in community

We don’t build a foundation by being absent. We are required to be a part of the building process. In other words, creating a strong foundation does not happen by itself. The things that we focus on in our private study are what make us stronger, and we add to that strength when we develop it in community with others.

This helps us to strengthen and develop the parts of us that no one sees.

On the surface we may look and feel invincible, but a person in isolation can become vulnerable very quickly. How will one person stand by themselves? It is very difficult.

The sequoia trees in California are fascinating for this reason. They are huge, magnificent, beautiful trees. It is said that the sequoia tree grows a couple hundred feet tall and can live over a thousand years. The trees live in clusters and groups and as they grow, their roots get intertwined and they support each other. The secret strength of the sequoia is found in what is unseen – what’s below the surface. Without that, they would struggle to withstand the high winds and storms that blow through.

While we as ministry leaders spend time reading the Scriptures, being with the Lord in prayer and remembering the promises of God, we also want to be connected with others so that we can stand strong together.

Practicing the Sabbath in community

Part of this is in remembering the Sabbath. The Sabbath gives us freedom and the Sabbath gives us rest. These are two aspects of life that can help us build our foundation and prepare us for things that we may not have expected – not just for those things that bring us down and disappoint us, but also in those moments when we are tempted to take the credit for what the Lord has done in our lives! The unseen by others keeps us afloat as it were.

Just like the sequoia, the strength comes in the unity, in the being together, praying together, speaking with one another and just simply being there for each other.

Preparing for the storm

We can’t wait until the storm to get together, but rather this is something that we are encouraged to do as we grow in our faith and mature.

Too many times we feel we can do it alone. Too many times we may go out with our own confidence and power, but in reality, we can only do so much alone. That will be seen for what it is. It is the strength that is garnered before the storm that keeps us upright during the storm.

In Luke 8:42-46, Jesus notices someone has touched him. He realizes power has been taken from him:

“As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.’ ”

Ministry requires our energy and it is hard work. Yes, we are blessed in our calling, but we want to be mindful of the “power” that is taken from us, as well as the strength that we need in ministry. This is why we need to go beneath the surface. What is seen can be very fragile, especially if we are working in our own strength.

We cannot prepare for all situations, but we can come to life’s unexpected events prepared.


Looking for more help strengthening your life as a leader and growing in spiritual and emotional maturity? Check out Building Below the Waterline by Gordon MacDonald and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.


Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.


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