Flying over the earth in the upper stratus of the atmosphere is most often a beautiful experience.
The minutia of life and all the daily demands that comes with living seem far away and more easily forgotten. The flight provides perspective that drowns out the endless lists, details, frantic pace and perpetual reminders that life is sometimes joyful, but always very challenging. High in the atmosphere, one can experience the freedom of flight and the beauty of the clouds, the wind, the sunlight and all the dramatic angles of being less caught up in the friction and weight of terra firma.
But, as the plane descends through the atmosphere we begin to experience other aspects of our journey. Sometimes we run into weather that is less than conducive for smooth flight. Air pockets may bang us around a little (or a lot). Or we descend through clouds that can create fear and cause us to wonder if we’re in the right place or getting dangerously close to obstacles, or even the ground. Eventually we break through the clouds to find ourselves overwhelmed by the terrain and the multiplicity of increasing detail. We may see a stand of trees, a range of mountains, or buildings that must be avoided. We know the pilot is thinking of air speed, distance, flap position, and alignment as we make our final approach. All of this can be disconcerting and, at times, overwhelming. All considered, this can be a good picture of how life feels.
When I find myself in this setting, I can sometimes feel anxious. It all seems so much at one time and I often feel like I am flying with the disadvantage of malfunctioning equipment. This can be a change in my life, like a career move. Or it can be dysfunctional communication in the family, or tension between friends, or as broad as an uncertain financial future. Or it can be as intimidating as an abusive spouse or a major physical ailment, or an out of control anger. And once again, we become overtaken by the reality of the broken world in which we all live.
I have a friend who was scheduled to be in a close friends wedding, but because he had to fly to the wedding he decided at the last minute not to go. Flying frightened him too much. I know of a woman who hasn’t taken a vacation with her husband in years, because unless it’s driving distance she won’t go. She, too, is afraid of flying. And there are many people who don’t like change because it’s too unpredictable. It causes great angst in their hearts to not be in control of their environment. And so they never do anything except what they can “control.” And they remain enslaved to those fears.
The question begs, how do we live successfully without being overtaken by all the pressures of life, the unpredictable issues, or by the inevitable changes that come with living?
It takes several things to successfully navigate all the intricacies and challenges of life. Let me offer a few things that have helped me.
- God’s word. I find it impossible to keep my nose above water without the healthy dose of perspective offered only in God’s word. Life looses it’s context outside of a childlike faith in God. Unless we are able to see the big picture of how God has made us and for what he has made us it becomes more than challenging to keep your boat from taking on water.
- God’s family. God’s means of maintaining vibrancy and living a life of discipleship is the context of the body of Christ. In the past I have had people share some difficult things with me about how I was behaving, thinking or speaking an it was these friends or others who love me that shared those sometimes ugly realities. I didn’t care for it at the time, but I came to deeply value the love in which it was delivered to me. I’m a different person as the result of those moments.
- God’s context. When we come to Christ we move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. This is so significant because we’re now in the most remarkable relationship ever. We have been adopted by the God of the universe who is sovereign, loving and merciful. He is more committed to our growth and holiness than we could ever be (in fact, we can sometimes be resistant to growth). This begins the process that Scripture calls sanctification. This is the process of how God conforms us into his image, and sometimes it’s painful. But always it’s for our good and for God’s glory. I have found that understanding this amazing process helps me as I take walk through the incredible journey called life.
As you venture through the valley of the shadow of death don’t forget that the King of Kings promises to walk with you. That may sound hyper spiritual or out of context to your 21st century world, but resist the temptation to dismiss it and lean too heavily on your own resources. Just because I don’t see God work in the way I prefer him to work does not at all mean that he is not at work. He takes very good care of his children. Lean upon him like you would a caring father. Believe what he says in his word. Share your struggle with trusted believing friends. And understand that we can trust this great God even when we don’t understand him. He has never failed and he never will.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.