God knows I hate turbulence. Now, with all the travel restrictions, the concerns over virus variants and hotel quarantines, I’m wondering if I’ll ever have to fly again. Many are desperate for sunny foreign climes this summer, but I’ll be quite content to have a staycation.
For 12 years our ministry roles turned me into a ‘frequent flier’. Some trips could involve as many as 8 individual flights and sometimes with airlines with poor safety records. Looking back it was such a privilege to see places, meet people and learn a little of what God was doing, but I did struggle with my fear of flying. Before each trip I was living on the edge of a panic attack. Here’s how God helped me and how I think he can help us all as we live in these turbulent times.
An important breakthrough came for me quite unexpectedly. I overheard two friends talking about my travelling. “She really doesn’t like aeroplanes, but it’s her job.” It was amazing how these words helped. Actually, everyone has bits of their job that they don’t enjoy and they just have to get on with it. This revelation led me to a deeper submission to God, and a deeper acceptance of the work he’d called me to do. The worry and struggle I used to experience before a trip largely went.
Perhaps during these difficult days we need a deeper submission to God, and an acceptance of life as it is now.
Ignorance can make fear much worse. I took Captain Stacey’s online Fear of Flying Course and learned the facts about turbulence, different plane noises and procedures. That helped with the flights themselves. During a turbulent flight it was always a real comfort to hear the pilot’s voice explain in a calm, confident tone the cause of the turbulence and how long it might last.
It’s important to get our information about this pandemic from reliable sources to avoid fear mongers, conspiracy theories and fake news.
Often the best remedy for my anxiety on a flight has been to forget about myself by developing a conversation with a fellow passenger, or by amusing a fretful toddler to help a stressed out mum. As we focus attention on others love does seem to cast out fear, and as lockdown continues we can still find opportunities to show empathy and care.
Love really did cast out fear for a family friend, Andy Meakins. I found the story of his flight very sobering. He and his wife were travelling from Addis Ababa when somewhere near Kenya their plane was hijacked. Escaped convicts brandishing an axe and a supposed bomb ordered the pilot to turn the plane eastward. They were running out of fuel; the captain announced they were going to crash land in the sea. People began to scream and others began to pray. Andy’s wife later reported that Andy left his seat and moving up and down the aisle he shared the gospel and prayed with the terrified passengers. Of the 175 passengers and crew, 120 died, including Andy himself.
The virus is dangerous causing tragedy and untold pain and loss. In these turbulent times facing the worst case scenario while remembering the purpose of our lives as Christians is more helpful in combatting fear than kidding ourselves into positive thinking.
Having said that, we mustn’t allow these difficult days to rob us of our joy. Once I had to fly to Iran alone and I felt apprehensive. My daily reading was in Ezekiel and to my amusement I found God promising to speak to me and show me his glory on the plane (plain) (Ezekiel 3:22-23)! It proved true. I found the hours flying there an invaluable time of preparation and the return flight a blessed time of reflection.
It’s good not to take ourselves too seriously, to keep a sense of humour and smile with God.
My last flight was from Dubai just before lockdown. Our seats were in the tail of the plane – the very worst place to be on a bumpy ride. Sure enough, turbulence began. Toilets were closed, the trolley put away, everyone belted in their seats. Silence from the pilot as the plane dipped and jerked this way and that. How long would it last? As usual I leaned forward in an almost foetal position, tightly grasping the arm rests. Then I remembered Jesus in the storm, asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. “Is there room on the cushion for me?” I asked. Bravely I felt around and found the small flight pillow, put it under my head and relaxed into my chair. I found I could ride the turbulent waves with Jesus.
I still can’t say I enjoy flying, and I don’t enjoy the times we’re living in. But I do know that if we learn to rest in Jesus, he will carry us through to the other side.