Let me just say it here and now: I do not like flying. I’m not exactly aviophobic, but the idea of sitting in a pressurized tin can with wings that is soaring at over 500 mph about 5-1/2 miles above the earth… well, it is unsettling. My uncle just broke his ankle falling off a seven foot ladder. A fall from 30,000 feet would likely be much worse.
A few years ago, my wife and I were at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, getting ready to fly to Atlanta to see my brother and his family. On the drive to the airport, I noticed the sky to the west growing darker and darker. I turned on the radio and listened as, through the crackles and snaps that lightning creates on AM frequencies, the meteorologist said the last words I really wanted to hear:
Funnel sightings in rural areas west of the Twin Cities.
I had Wizard of Oz visions dancing in my anxious mind: cattle, barns, tractors, all being sucked up in a spiraling maelstrom. Flying monkeys circling the perimeter of the vortex. The voice of Johnny, the air traffic controller from the movie Airplane!, shouting, “Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s a twister! It’s a twister!”
I did a quick mental calculation. This storm was headed toward the airport.
We arrived before the storm, got through security and settled in to grab a bite before the flight when it hit. Watching the wind and rain, I really didn’t want to get on an airplane. I looked down at my feet. No ruby slippers. Just my luck.
Our flight was delayed but, the storm passed, no damage done. As soon as it was safe, we boarded our flight and taxied out on the runway. Now, I will tell you that my second least favorite part of flying is take off (number one: you guessed it, landing). I will also tell you that, taking off in the unstable atmosphere of a just-passed thunderstorm is can be less than comfortable. Especially when, as the plane is climbing and shaking, you experience a sudden drop that makes you feel like the world just fell out from under you.
The plane climbed and shuddered. For a few short moments, I was one jolt away from becoming John Lithgow in The Twilight Zone, shrieking at the top of my lungs, “There’s a man on the wing of this plane!” I was sure they were going to have to turn the plane around and haul me out on a gurney. I still get the creeps when I hear CCR’s cover of “The Midnight Special.” (Ok… I think I’m done with the movie references for now…)
I was praying hard. I thought for sure we were headed for an involuntary landing on the Minnesota River. Hope we don’t hit the I-494 bridge. Once we rose above the storm and things calmed down a bit, I realized I had leaned forward and grabbed onto the seat in front of me. Hard. Loosening my Kung Fu grip, I quietly apologized to the passenger whose seat I had sunk my fingers into. “Don’t sweat it,” he said kindly. Still, he avoided eye contact with me when we were disembarking at Hartsfiel.
Why the fear? My anxiety fired up well before take off. I was scared before we even got to the airport. I didn’t trust that the pilot or the air traffic controllers would know what they were doing. Worst of all, I didn’t trust God.
How often in life do we face situations that are unpleasant – even downright scary – and get ourselves worked up before we even get there? And, while we face some turbulence – even of the variety that makes you feel like your stomach is in your esophagus when the bottom seems to fall out – we survive. In fact, the rest of the trip may well end up downright enjoyable.
There is a reason Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 to not worry about anything. It’s because God knows what He is doing. He absolutely has control. Sometimes we face difficult situations by our own doing, and sometimes He leads us there. Every situation has merit, good or “bad.” At the very least it is a moment of learning or testing or growth. But embrace it bravely and faithfully, knowing God is the one in control of the results. Do what God wants, learn from the experience, and move on with God. Don’t let fear rob you of the experience God has set before you.