I’ve never been a great “traveler.” Even as a child, when I would get out of my comfort zone, it was so stressful that I would become physically ill any time we went on vacation. Our family would be going on a trip to someplace wonderful and the morning of our departure, I would lock myself in the bathroom and ask to please be allowed to stay home. No matter how much I wanted to be where we were going or how excited I was, it was almost not worth it to endure the stress of getting where we were going. Over the years it never really subsided and it eventually became something that held me back and became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was so worried and stressed about becoming sick on a trip that the mere thought of a trip made me feel miserable physically. No doubt I missed out on a lot of wonderful experiences as a result of my worry and fear.
Our fears can be so very powerful that we not only miss out on great things, but we actually create situations where we feel much worse than necessary. Fears feed on themselves. We all know it but we often feel powerless to change it. For me, there were very valid physical reasons why I got sick as a child but eventually the risk of not feeling well when I traveled became the reason I felt sick. The risk of doing something out my comfort zone (in many ways beyond traveling) became paralyzing at times. All I could think was “what if.” What if something happened? What if I got sick? What if I needed help and was surrounded by strangers? The “what ifs” were so great that it clouded the positive benefits of the experience.
When we fear something, all we see is the risk involved. Any potential benefits are far outweighed by what we worry might happen. When we focus on all that can go wrong, we miss out on the thrill of what it feels like when everything goes right. We then find ourselves living in a place where we trade the spectacular for the secure or the miraculous for the mundane. Days turn into years and we wake up one day and realize all the things we have missed because we have been too busy worrying what might happen.
I recently watched a documentary about an aircraft carrier and its crew. At one point, they were relating how difficult and terrifying it is to land an aircraft on a carrier at night. Visibility drops to almost zero and they have to rely totally on their instruments to guide them. Even the most experienced pilots said it didn’t matter how many times they had done it, every time still took their breath away. One officer said that if the pilots thought about the risks of what they are doing, they’d never do it because there are so many things that could go wrong. He mentioned how intense and important the training is and how sometimes things DO go wrong. He said, “When we can’t see and things fall apart, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of procedures and checklists. If you think about the risk of what you’re doing, you’d never do it. Nobody in his right mind would do it.” We tend to look at these incredibly brave pilots as though they possess something inherently special that we don’t. Actually the difference is when they get scared or things fall apart, they rely on what they have been trained to do.
As I consider what this officer said about night landings, I could not help but think about how true it is for our lives, especially spiritually. We look around and see people doing great things or exhibiting great faith and tend to think God gave them some special trait or gift of courage that we have not received. The truth is these people have simply learned to wrap themselves in a cocoon of “procedures and checklists” when things go wrong that allow them to stand strong in spite of their fears. They rely on the truths they have been taught or the promises of God’s word. It is not an emotional reliance, but a literal and logical one. Facing our fears and moving forward is not about summoning grand amounts of courage, but it is relying on the things we know to be true. God has made his children some amazing promises, including that He will take care of us no matter the circumstances. We know this (and we believe it) but when things start falling apart, we panic instead of turning our focus to the “checklist” of truths we have been given. Training is not an easy process; ask any soldier. It is exhausting when we are pushed beyond our limits physically, mentally and emotionally but it is precisely what prepares us to be able to handle the most risky circumstances even though are knees are shaking! Learning the truths of life or of God’s word takes effort but it is the only way to create a priceless “cocoon of procedures and checklists” that allows us to land safely in the sweet spot of life we so greatly desire.