I buckle my seat belt, look around for the nearest emergency exit, and settle back. The plane takes off and reaches a comfortable cruising altitude as it flies over mountain ranges and an ocean or two. Occasionally the pilot will give an update or if I’m curious about our progress, I can check the flight path.
Usually when the plane begins its final descent, I’m in the middle of watching a movie or reading a book. I don’t even notice my gradual return to earth.
A few months ago, a friend told me about a different kind of flight she once took. She boarded a small plane and flew into a war zone to do humanitarian work. As the plane neared their destination, there was no gradual descent. Instead, to keep out of the range of ground missiles, the plane continued at its cruising altitude until it was almost above the airport. Then it went into an intentional spiral [I would call it a death spiral], making tight circles like a corkscrew as it came down for the landing.
“During the spiral the crew keeps an eye out for other air traffic, and for anything coming at them from the ground. After several turns, the pilot pulls out of the rotation with careful timing, straightens out, and lands. The whole thing takes seven to 10 minutes, roughly the same as a regular approach, but it all takes place directly overhead, instead of beginning 20 miles from the runway.”
Listening to my friend’s story, I imagined the plane with its nose pointed down at the ground to avoid being shot down by enemy fire. I could picture me clutching the armrests, my stomach lurching and my mind scrambling as I wondered if the pilot was going to be able to straighten out the plane before it landed splat on the ground. Then I made a ‘note to self’: never volunteer for humanitarian work in a war zone.
I have zero desire to ever experience a death spiral like that. That’s also true in my journey through life. I like to keep things even-keeled. I want to cruise above the turbulence and avoid the storms. I prefer to stay out of the way of enemy fire. But sometimes my flight path heads straight into danger and suddenly I’m spinning around and around.
An illness, a job loss, the death of a close friend, a betrayal, experiences like these can make us feel like our life is doing a death spiral as it plummets to earth. We become anxious and wonder if our pilot is going to be able to pull us out of the spiral before we crash.
That happened a few times to me this past year. I went from a comfortable cruising altitude into what felt like an out-of-control tail spin. It was dizzying and disorienting. At times I felt paralyzed by fear, and other times I wanted to charge into the cockpit and take control of the plane. It was hard to trust God to bring me through the storm and steer me safely home.
I could identify with the disciples on the boat as they shouted at Jesus to wake him up. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” [Mark 4:38]
After Jesus took care of the storm, He responded to the disciples’ question with one of His own:
“Why can’t you trust Me?” [Luke 8:25, The Message]
A pilot’s paraphrase might be: “Don’t worry folks. It may get a little rough out there, but I’ve flown through this kind of turbulence before. And maybe there are guns firing at us, but I know what it’s like to be shot at. Hang on tight and don’t be afraid. I’m with you and I will bring you safely home.”
I need to continually remind myself of this truth because the death spirals I experiences this year won’t be my last ones. Life on this earth is a war zone.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
I can have a peace that is beyond all understanding, even in the midst of another death spiral. Jesus, the master of the wind and waves, the conqueror of our worst enemy, is my pilot. I am not alone. And I can trust Him.
Commit your future to the Lord! Trust in Him and He will act on your behalf…
Wait patiently for the Lord! Wait confidently for Him.
Psalm 37:5, 7
What has your flight path been like recently?
How do you need to trust God?