It was a completely clear day in St. Louis, not a cloud in the sky and I was filled with
nervous excitement. I was sixteen years old and the only other time I had ever been in a plane was a short flight to Chicago with a friend and her grandmother when I was young. Motion sickness, which I knew could sometimes be a problem for me, was my only concern. That early afternoon I boarded the extremely small plane with my friend from school, Erin, and her dad, an experienced pilot who had formerly served in the Air Force. I was invited to go along with them as he took his plane out for a short flight and I was thrilled for this new, exciting experience.
As the tiny plane took off and I looked down on the land below. I remember being in awe of the view and the beauty of the landscape. The feeling of being so tiny, surrounded by that magnificent blue sky, as we glided alone through the air was pretty amazing. Things were going well, but now comes the point in the story when my family would say, as they frequently do with one of my crazy stories, “Only you, Jill (insert eye roll).”
Erin’s dad unexpectedly offered to give me a chance at the stick and fly the plane. God love him, he was probably trying to give me even more of a one-of-a-kind experience, but little did he know what he was in store for. Panic gripped me at the very thought of my inexperienced self being in control of that plane for even a second (my hands are sweating even as I type this). After protesting several times, I was like, “Why not?” and pushed myself to do it. I’m sure it was a completely safe situation as I sat up front next to Erin’s dad as he explained the controls to me and I held onto the stick making slight adjustments with his guidance. At first I was thinking, “Wow, this isn’t so bad,” which, for some reason, quickly turned to thoughts like “I just want this to be over, like NOW!“ and “We are going down at any second!” Also, I didn’t want to say anything and, I really couldn’t put my finger on it, but I started feeling REALLY strange.
Honestly, Erin’s family probably still laughs about this next part, twenty-seven years later. I must have gotten really quiet and had a funny look on my face because they both kept asking me if I was okay. All I could do was shake my head no. I was suddenly filled with such an all-encompassing, paralyzing fear that I could not think straight. My arms, legs and face were completely numb. I felt like my tongue swelling and I could not even talk AT ALL. To make matters worse, my feet and hands started spasming and I could not move my fingers to take my hands off of the control stick.
I kid you not, Erin’s dad had to literally pry each of my fingers off of that stick so that he could land the plane. When we were back on the ground again, he then had to lift me out of the plane and help me lay down in the back of his car so that they could take me home. How embarrassing!! I can only guess what their conversation was like around the dinner table that night!
Looking back at this weird experience, my family and I often laugh, but to be honest I probably hyperventilated and experienced an extreme panic attack. Now that was quite a bout of fear! When I examine my personality today, I can see that I am a person who likes to be in control. Gripping tightly to those controls and relying only on my own strength is, I guess, my way of keeping my anxiety in check. But, the problem with this is, I alone am not enough to overcome fear. I am realizing that I will NEVER BE enough AND I don’t have to be, because Jesus is. On a daily basis I need to place my trust in Him, letting go of those controls and letting God take over. On that plane, I knew that I was in no way equipped to handle flying on my own and my response was immobilizing fear. Likewise, I now am beginning to understand that I am not equipped to single-handedly take on all of the problems life throws at me and, as a child of God, I don’t have to. I am reminded of this verse from Isaiah:
Isaiah 12:2 (NIV) Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.
Honestly, giving up that false-sense of control will probably always be a struggle for me, but it feels so much better when I go to God in prayer and let him lift those burdens off of my shoulders. Because, let’s face it, God is the one who is ultimately in control of everything and I am so grateful for it! So instead of responding in fear when handling one of life’s challenges, I can trade that for hope and experience the peace that only God can bring.