The Fear of Flying.

airplane

Have you heard the news?  Planes have been falling out of the sky lately.  Malaysian Airlines lost a plane, Air Asia also lost a plane in the South Pacific, and most recently Germanwings had a pilot intentionally down an airbus in the Alps.  This, of course, has reignited for many a deep-seated fear of flying.

I have never been a very fearful person; I was always the child who was willing to try.  I climbed trees, straightlined down mountains on skis, taught myself how to do all sorts of flips off the diving board, and rode horses as fast as they could go; I enjoyed going fast.  As an adult, I ride a motorcycle, and travel wherever the road (or air) will take me; I just enjoy experiencing life.  In 2008 I moved to SE Asia.  Shortly before I arrived, there was an airline called Adam Air who lost two jets within a year.  Consequently they went out of business, but air travel was not the most certain thing in my host country.  Shortly after moving there, a few more planes went down, one even crashed in the city where I was living and killed 27 people on board.  I only lived a few miles from the airport and could often hear planes flying overhead.  The entire first year that I was in country I went to language school so that I could function in the country, and part of our discipline was reading the newspaper.  One day the local newspaper listed every plane and helicopter that had crashed in the past year in this country alone.  It nearly filled the whole first page.

Suddenly, one day, fear gripped my heart.  It was a new experience for me, as I used to love flying.  Heights never bothered me, and the excitement of going somewhere had me always ready to board the plane.  But here I was, as far away from home as I could physically be, terrified of air travel.  As I finished up language school, I began preparing for my job which required me to fly at least two, and up to six times a month.  I began scheming with my partner how we could drive instead of fly.  This was impossible, of course, in a country where there are no highways!  I had a slew of meetings where I had to travel to other countries back to back, and the simple act of driving to the airport would all but send me into a panic attack.

A well meaning Christian counselor prescribed me Xanax and a more potent medication to help.  I tried the meds, but they would make me fall asleep until the plane started moving, and as soon as we pulled onto the runway for takeoff, I was awake and as terrified as ever.  For one meeting I flew with a good friend and coworker who had three children at the time, and she joked as we boarded the plane that “God would not down a plane with such cute babies aboard”.  There was a slight comfort in flying with friends, but those 3 hours were still torture.

I started my job, and my partner and I decided that we would drive (a two day drive, instead of a 2 hour flight) for our first trip.  The day before the trip, plans changed and he decided that flying was the only option, so I chose to stay home.  At this point I realized there was a serious problem:  I was incapable of doing my job.

At the time I was working on my Master’s degree from Southern Seminary, and as part of the degree program I was required to take two counseling classes.  I signed up for my first one, and in the intro lecture the professor said we were each required to have a “Personal Sanctification Project”.  “Pick one thing in your life that you would like to change”, he said.  I knew exactly what I wanted to change.  I did not consider it sin, but I knew that I needed to conquer this fear in order to do anything – even if it was just to get home!

The personal sanctification project was an issue that we would bring to the Lord.  We were required to journal about the issue, anything the Lord was saying to us, any verses that He was pointing out to us, and how we were progressing with it throughout the semester.  The premise of the course was the assumption that any issue that was not a chemical or physical imbalance was truly a discipleship issue.  Two weeks into the course he addressed the “sin of fear”.  The second of the three lectures he actually focused on the fear of flying.

Now, in my mind, my fear was justified.  I am not an illogical person.  I like to think, reason, use my logic and make informed decisions.  The risk of flying in this particular country was higher than most, and planes crashed regularly.  I could have argued my logic to anyone, and many people shared my fear.  No one approached me and said, “Alison, your fear is a sin”.  But if they would have, I am confident that I would have defended myself adamantly.  But God had prepared my heart and readied me to hear this exhortation from a professor on a videotaped lecture.  Jesus commands us not to fear.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

He simply asked the question, “What are you afraid of?”  He than began to reveal the fact that fearing death is, at its root, a lack of faith.  “Do you truly believe that when you die, you will enter into eternity with Jesus?”  he asked.  Conviction hit me hard.  I had not stopped in my anxiety and terror to consider that if we crashed and I died, I would get to go to my eternal home.  Yes!  He was right!  The logic began to set in, but it did not alleviate the fear.

At the time I was reading through the book of Hebrews in my quiet times, and as I began the very first chapter, verse three stood out to me:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Jesus is upholding everything that exists in the world by His word.  He is continually speaking you and me into existence.  He is speaking the airplanes into existence!  If He were to stop speaking, we would cease to exist.  Poof!  We would be gone.

So there I was, left with a promise that God is sovereign, He is in control, and He is literally speaking me and the airplane into existence.  I was also left with a command to not fear, and the reality that letting fear take root in my heart was sin, it was disobeying Jesus and it was a lack of faith.  I began to pray that verse to God.  “God, I know you are speaking me into existence and that you are in control.  I am going to get on the next airplane and trust your plan.”

I did not have to wait very long to follow through.  The next week we headed off to the airport.  I did not sleep the night before.  My stomach was upset the whole morning.  I sat terrified in the waiting room.  And I got on the airplane.  I prayed, “God, I know you are speaking me and this airplane into existence.  If we crash, I am coming home to you.”  I prayed that over and over for the entire two hour flight.  I was terrified.  But I got through the plane ride.  For the next six or seven flights I prayed that prayer without a breath in between.  I was on a flight that landed so hard that the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.  I was on another flight that flew through the heart of a storm, but upon reaching our destination the airport had no electricity and therefore no runway lights (it was at nighttime), so we turned around and went back to our departure city.

I obeyed in fear.

But then, one day, just as suddenly as the fear gripped my heart, it was gone.  I was in the same country, had the same job, flew the same airlines, and suddenly God relieved me of the fear.  God gave me the faith to truly believe that if I did die, it was to my benefit, and the spirit of fear was overcome.

Fear is a type of temptation.  It can be a healthy reaction.  If an oncoming car swerves into your lane in traffic, adrenaline starts pumping and you react quickly.  If you are riding passenger when a car swerves into your lane, your fight or flight reaction kicks in, you might yell, you might gasp, you might grab the handle of your door.  This is a God-given response to danger.  But if you give in to the temptation to allow fear to reign or govern your feelings or actions, you have given in to sin.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

When you experience fear, because you will experience fear, turn immediately to God in prayer.  Examine your faith.  Ask yourself what it is that you are truly fearing.  Claim promises of Scripture.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4.19).  “All things work together for good for those that love God” (Rom 8.28).

God is in control.
He is speaking you, and your vice into existence.
Ask Him to give you victory.
He will direct you out of sin, and into faith.

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