Loss of control leads to either fear, denial, or freedom.
Fear and anxiety materialize when we realize that we are unable to accomplish the outcomes we prefer.
Freedom comes when we ultimately trust the One who can determine outcomes.
Last weekend, I had the great privilege of participating in the inaugural church plant service of a close friend in New Hampshire. Another friend of mine, who is a pilot with a small plane at his disposal, offered to fly my wife and me up for the day. We gladly took him up on his offer, and the flight up couldn’t have been nicer. It was a crystal-clear day, and the view of the northeastern countryside at 9000 ft was breathtaking. The service went well, and it was exciting to see the birth of a new baby church in person. As we gathered our things to head back, my pilot friend informed me that some potentially nasty weather was brewing, and our trip back might not be as uneventful as the way up. He was not wrong.
A short time into our return flight, we headed into some light rain. Let me just say that turbulence on a 737 is not at all similar to turbulence on a small 5-passenger propeller-driven aircraft! At first, things weren’t so difficult. Due to our pilot’s experience and planning, we avoided most of the storm and skirted along the edge. Things took a literal turn for the worse as we got closer to home. In a small plane like that, everyone gets to wear a headset and hear all the indecipherable pilot terminology about waypoints, routing, and flight control management. If you are unfamiliar with the phonetic alphabet call sign list (like alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.), it can sound like people speaking in a whole different language.
About 20 minutes from home, a flight controller reached out to our little aircraft with an urgent message. There was an emergency life flight helicopter in our path, and we needed to divert due west to avoid it. This doesn’t seem significant, except for the little red patch of severe weather on our screen. We dutifully complied and headed into the thick of things. All I can say is I’m very thankful I had taken that full dose of Dramamine earlier that morning. We were bouncing around like a bath toy in the tub of a hyperactive toddler. At that moment, I had several choices.
First and probably most natural to me was fear and anxiety. I had no control of the situation at all. I was now entirely at the mercy of the elements and the experience and the ability of my friend, the pilot. While trying to stay calm on the outside, my mind raced to obscure stories of flight disasters and plane crashes. Anxiety is a natural reaction to a perceived loss of control.
My second choice would have been to try and take things into my own hands. In most small planes, there are two yolks, the equivalent of the driving wheel in a car. Since I was conveniently located in the front passenger seat due to my larger-than-average frame, I had one directly in front of me. I could have grabbed it and proceeded to use my nonexistent flight training and zero experience to try and rectify our situation, but I’m sure you already know how that would have ended. Badly.
My third choice, and the one I like to think I chose (although maybe a little bit of the first as well), was to trust my friend, the pilot, and his tens of thousands of hours of experience flying to deliver us safely back to our home airport. There is significant freedom in accepting the fact that you are not in control and trusting someone else who is much more qualified to handle the situation.
Anxiety, denial, or freedom
Anxiety, denial, or freedom are three options when the illusion of control is shattered in our lives. We can plan for a relaxing day at the beach with the family, carefully checking the weather reports and stocking up on sunscreen and frisbees, but we can’t see the future. We strategize and invest so that we might one day be able to retire, but no one knows for sure what the market will do. We may set an alarm for 6 a.m. when we go to bed, but we really have no guarantee that we will wake up in the morning. How should we respond to this?
Anxiety is the motion sickness of life. Motion sickness, also called kinetosis, is a term used to describe the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness that happen when a person is traveling. It results from an overload or conflict of stimulation in the inner ear. Sometimes, in life, things come at us so fast that it’s hard to think, and we have trouble processing everything. We quickly feel overwhelmed and out of control. These thoughts can lead to some of the same symptoms as motion sickness. I can get carsick pretty quickly when I am not driving, but I rarely have any issues when I am driving. Whenever I go somewhere with someone, I always offer to drive. It’s an easy way to prevent kinetosis. In real life, however, things are not often that simple.
Denial comes into play when I assume that I am competent enough to solve any problem that comes my way. If I believe in myself enough, I can overcome any obstacle. Although it sounds great and is a common message among the advertisers of our day, that idea is just not true. There are many things that are unsolvable by human strength. The idea that human willpower and determination are enough to overcome any challenge is a central tenet of the religion of secular humanism. It is a lie from the very beginning.
Freedom: The Good News of God’s Rescue Plan
In Genesis chapter 3, Satan uses this very line of reasoning to deceive Adam and Eve. He plants the idea in Eve’s head that God is not good and that she is totally qualified to be a god herself. That may sound like something you would never fall for, but it is a message that is pounded into our brains daily by the culture around us. We deny God’s goodness. We deny our own flawed natures, and when we do, sin and death are a result.
This is where the gospel comes into play. This is the good news of God’s rescue plan for all of humanity. This is freedom. That God, being rich in mercy, loved us so much that he sent his own Son to die in our place. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, and even though he did not deserve it, he chose to die so that we could be forgiven. Only when we release our feeble grip on control can we truly experience the freedom that comes from trusting Him.
Letting Go of Control
As I write these words, I’m sitting on another plane. This one is a Boeing 737. It’s much larger than the little plane I flew in on the way to New Hampshire. So far, this trip has been pretty uneventful, with no turbulence or weather issues to speak of. Even so, I’m glad I’m sitting in this seat and not in the pilot seat. I don’t have to be responsible for the lives of everyone in this aircraft. I am perfectly content to sit right here with my seatbelt fastened, waiting for the time when the plane lands and everyone will head out to their final destinations.
This is the freedom that comes with letting go of control. The gospel is all about our inadequacy and Christ’s sufficiency. He has done the work. He is flying the plane. The gospel is the ultimate answer to anxiety and fear. All we have to do is trust Him.