Our two-week vacation on Sanibel Island in Florida was wonderful—just the break I needed after finishing my latest novel and before starting the research process for the next. I sat in the departure lounge in the Fort Myers Airport with my husband on Saturday, thinking about all of the things I needed to do when I got home, including writing this blog. The inbound flight arrived, but we were told there would be a delay before we could board due to a mechanical issue. One hour stretched into two. I tried not to grow nervous as I watched the mechanics “tinkering” with something on the wing of our plane. And I was greatly relieved when the airline finally announced that we would be moving to a new gate to board a different plane.
At last we lifted off. But an hour into the flight, I happened to glance out the window in time to see our airplane make a giant U-turn in the sky. The flight attendants, who had just begun serving snacks and beverages, abruptly steered their carts back to the galley. Then the announcement came: “Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has just informed us that we need to make an emergency landing due to a mechanical problem. We should be on the ground in Orlando, Florida in about 30 minutes.”
No one wants to hear news like that when they’re ten-thousand feet above the earth! As panic set in, I realized that I was utterly helpless to control any aspect of my life or my future. All I could do was pray—and of course, I did. Fervently! Everyone else must have been doing the same thing because the plane became eerily quiet. The next thirty minutes seemed like an eternity.
The book I happened to bring along to read on that flight was “Be Still My Soul” by Elisabeth Elliot. Her words took on new meaning as the stricken plane descended. “We have to come to Him in humility, acknowledging our helplessness and our utter dependence on Him. … If we have given our lives to Him, we are able to accept everything that happens to us as from His hands.” We have a savior we can trust, Elliot says. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive it as the will of our all-loving God.
Most days, I go about my life with the illusion that I’m in control. I can decide where and when I’ll go on vacation; which airline I’ll fly with; how my novels will end, and which book topic I’ll write about next. But my helplessness on that airplane reminded me that my ability to control things goes only so far. Ultimately, my life doesn’t belong to me, but to God, who has redeemed it through His Son. If I’ve given my life to Him, then He is in control, not me. And I’m helpless to save myself spiritually, as well. If we crashed and my life ended, none of my “good deeds” would have any merit at all. “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”
Of course, we landed safely or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. We got off the broken plane and were loaded onto a third aircraft an hour later. I confess that my knees felt very wobbly as I boarded. The sick, churning feeling in my stomach grew worse. “The third time’s the charm,” our flight attendant said cheerfully as we took our seats. Once again, I would be vulnerable and helpless, thousands of feet above the earth, for another two-and-a-half hours. And yet, in a strange way, I’m grateful for the reminder of God’s power and my own helplessness. The new year is certain to bring many changes and challenges that I can do nothing about. There will be many more times when I’ll feel panicked and afraid and helpless. But as Elisabeth Elliot says, we do have control over one thing: “You can choose to trust His faithfulness in every detail of your life.”
“When I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3)