I had a mild, maybe moderate anxiety attack in the air this week. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone – I was sitting next to a trusted friend who prayed with me and reassured me about what is true.
It would be two hours and some minutes to our destination. Through the window, the only thing visible was the complete white-out, as we flew through the “polar vortex” depositing winter throughout North America.
On the previous flight, I’d been in the emergency exit row and the door to my right had been allowing a very cold draft to pass through, tempting my imagination with visions of the door suddenly flying off and of being sucked out into the sky. I kept nodding off, but every time I dozed, my brain slipped rapidly into dreams reflecting all my worst fears, mostly a real-life reenactment of J.J. Abrams’ most treasured plane crash-themed TV series.
The safety information card in the pocket in front of me read “Safe & Secure.” I was probably already on edge because right before we boarded, I’d heard the pilot complain about the complete lack of visibility and the fact that the temperature was just one degree from the operation cutoff – as in, “it’s too cold to operate a plane”. These really aren’t things pilots should say in public.
I never feel more aware of my humanity and finiteness than when I’m flying. I think it’s something about being strapped inside a metal cylinder and being hurled through the air by fuel-powered engines. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s kind of a strange reality and it hands me all kinds of powerless feelings to navigate.
Years ago, I started praying right at take-off and I find it’s become a regular habit. I worried for a while that perhaps I was thinking of prayer like a good-luck charm, as though the act of saying a prayer would keep me safe. But I’ve come to realize that praying is actually more of a way I calm my mind and remind myself just Who is in control and Whose care I’m in.
Truthfully, when I’m in the air, I should relax. Gripping the armrest isn’t going to keep the plane safely at 10,000 feet. God is the guide of all my decisions, including the one to purchase a plane ticket and get into this travelling machine. It’s not on me to keep the plane functioning. The pilots’ skills and controls and technology are all in God’s sovereign hand.
I know all these things. I rehearse all these truths. And yet, fear threatens to grip my heart when circumstances appear less certain. I imagine all kinds of scenarios that would undo my security. Pilots losing consciousness, plane gear failures, storms, fire. My fleshly fears like to play tricks with my mind. I start believing that safe and secure depends on ideal circumstances, on everything holding together.
But my assurance of hope isn’t in perfect settings where nothing goes wrong, or that I’m flying under the direction of the most skilled pilot available. My confidence in all things is Jesus, who hasn’t left me and hasn’t forgotten to be sovereign over anything in my life. And if even the wind and the waves obey Him, the turbulence is not outside His control.