What does it mean to ‘burn the ships’?

There’s an article posted to a sales strategy website titled “Burn Your Ships: A History Lesson About How to Be a Great Leader.”

The piece drew flack from its readers.


Photo: Pixabay

It started with the history surrounding Cortés who, upon arrival in the New World in 1519, destroyed his ships. This seemingly reckless act guaranteed no way of retreat for him or his men.

Which is a rather strong motivation to press forward.

Readers complained that the writer was romanticizing “the brutal conquest of a great civilization by invaders who came for the express purpose of taking their land.”

The writer wasn’t, of course, condoning the practice of 16th century conquistadors, but rather the concept of making a commitment and then refusing to allow any means of retreat.

Two Australian brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone, who make up the group For King & Country, wrote a song titled “Burn the Ships.”

The lyrics were born from a personal story—about a close family member who experienced addiction and, after rehab work, flushed the pills that represented guilt and shame. “I don’t want to be consumed by my past anymore,” she said. “I want to move into a new day and to what’s before me.”

Hence, these lyrics:

Step into a new day

We can rise up from the dust and walk away

We can dance upon our heartache, yeah

So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships

And don’t you look back

After my season of cancer caregiving ended in widowhood, I eventually learned to laugh and enjoy life again.

And now I’m stepping into a new day. Rising up for the dust of loss and sorrow. Making a commitment to live forward. With a new husband. Dan.


On the Metolius River

Which doesn’t mean I don’t take the memories and stories and warm feelings of Gary with me.

It simply means I’m lighting a match and burning the ships that represent living in the past.

Which is exactly what Gary would want for me.

The notion of burning ships isn’t merely a motivational sales leadership talk. Or about leaving a destructive past behind.

For me, it’s about not entertaining thoughts of retreat from the commitment I’ve made to God and Dan—not a heavy and hard obligation, but a joyful and new promise of devotion and faithfulness.

What if?

What if we could rise up from the dust?

This song from David, the shepherd who toppled a giant, gives us a bit of insight as to how:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. — Psalm 34:18

Speaking from experience, it is possible to rise up and dance again and move forward with heart wide open to new adventure and new love.

It’s possible, because I’m doing it.

And all it entailed was leaning in close to God, sharing my broken-heartedness with Him—as if He wasn’t already aware—and listening for His voice of love and guidance as I step into a new day, a new season.

This season of planning a wedding. Of not looking back. Of leaving widowhood behind and making a fierce commitment to a good man.

I’m burning ships, even as we speak.


Dirt trails and the 52 Hike Challenge


What if the hard road contains beauty?


  1. Allison McCormick

    I love this piece! Walking into the brave and courageous, leaving behind the familiar and along the way knowing God is the author of our paths. Thank you for sharing the challenge to burn our ships, I’m lighting a match even as I’m typing.

  2. Kathy Ward

    Congratulations on your new adventure in life with a wonderful man! I had wondered what the Lord had in store for amazing people such as you and Dan after losing your beloved spouses. God had something new and exciting in store for you! Woohoo!

    • I almost forgot, Kathy, that you worked with Dan at the women’s Shepherd’s House facility and know him well! What are the odds that we would meet each other and have so much in common?! Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Kathy Allen

    Congratulations!! I have so enjoyed your writings and your journey. My husband died almost a year ago after a long, suffering illness. You have helped me in so many ways. I have also started to date a friend who was widowed 3 years ago. It’s a new chapter and an exciting one.
    I pray you will have a blessed new marriage!
    Fondly, Kathy Allen

    • Oh, Kathy … how wonderfully uplifting it is for me to hear that another fellow widow is finding new love. I pray you will enjoy this chapter to the fullest as it unfolds. Blessings!

  4. Peter

    Love the way the ‘burning ships’ story has eased its way into your thinking & plans for your future ‘togetherness’, with your Dan. My understanding is that you have learned to ‘let go’, not forgetting Gary & the memorable life you shared, just the knowing/learning it’s OK to ‘let go’. Since communicating with you & your loyal participants/readers, you have learned that I’ve/we’ve lived with the premature death of my dear brother David @ the age of 29 & the not knowing ‘why’, also loosing our second son shortly after birth, again, not knowing the reason ‘why’. However, responding as I have over these past years, you’ve helped me to come to terms with understanding that it is OK to ‘let go’, they are still loved and in our hearts, where they will remain until ‘we meet again’. Thanks so much on a personal level, but also far taking us on your ‘joy ride’, with Dan. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listening to these tracks, ‘The road never ends’, ‘What the wind knows’, ‘A distant love’ & ‘And then you loved me’ – (a CD by Brian Simpson & Steve Oliver)….. all the tracks on this UNIFIED CD are for listeners of music that touchs ones heart. Every blessing to you & yours from me and mine. Bx P & family

    • You put that very well, Peter – about ‘letting go’ and at the same time not forgetting our loved ones. You speak from experience, don’t you?

      So glad you’re along for the ‘joy ride’ with Dan and me!

  5. Chris Wheeler

    This makes my heart so happy for you . Congrats on your upcoming Wedding to Dan. I love seeing how God works in our lives . Miss seeing you … Chris

    • Thank you for your words of congratulations, Chris. I love how God is busy working in the background of our lives, and surprises us when we least expect it. I miss you, as well!

  6. Karen Wykes

    Marlys, so happy to hear about you ongoing journey,
    i feel deep joy for you and Dan.
    Blessings to you both, Karen

  7. Marshall Matthews

    Wonderful Marlys! What tremendous strength, insight, courage and FAITH!

  8. Nasus

    God is the perfect matchmaker! In this instance, not a match which will combust, causing damage, but a match that will more than double the blessings which God will bestow upon others by joining the two of you together in Him! What a joyful thought! Since you each are totally committed to the Captain of the Ship of your lives (Jesus), He will be able to set the sails where He determines and bless you all of the way! I love you both and am thanking God for bringing you two together! May God guide, bless, and keep you ever closer to Him. SO HAPPY FOR YOU TWO!!

  9. Congratulations Marlys! How wonderful you have this new love to enjoy. It’s so true, you don’t forget the wonders and joys of the past, but you can’t live there. Keep moving forward in God’s amazing grace.

  10. As a fellow traveler on this journey of widowhood, Marlys, my hopes are bolstered by what you and Dan have found. Something you once said has kept/is keeping me from making a big mistake by jumping into a wrong relationship, i.e., the best match is one where two can be exponentially more powerful as a team in loving people and making a difference. That’s what I want and am learning to lean into the LORD while waiting for Him to provide that best match.

    • That’s the hard part, isn’t it Julie: “… learning to lean into the LORD while waiting for Him to provide that best match.” Well said. Thank you!

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