By Randi Peck
I do not envy the burden of a pilot. Every time the typical commercial aircraft pilot lifts off, they hold in their hands the fate of nearly one million pounds, 350 million dollars, and, most significantly, the lives of hundreds of passengers. It is understandable then, with this in mind, that before captains are allowed to man an airplane, they have to undergo years of intensive training. They must be thoroughly equipped with how to avoid or, if necessary, face, nearly any complication- including the dreaded spatial disorientation.
Spatial disorientation can be defined as “the inability of a person to correctly determine his body position in space”. In other words, this phenomenon occurs when an aircraft pilot cannot tell his way up from down. This aviation sensation, commonly due to low-visibility weather conditions, can have deadly consequences and is not to be taken lightly.
Now I’ve never even stepped into a cockpit, and I likely never will. But I find this description of the pilot’s disorienting experience strangely familiar…
This past week, as I’ve stumbled out of bed, made my coffee, settled into my comfy chair, and opened my Bible, I’ve become frustrated. For no apparent reason, my most recent season of being excited about Christ and confident of his presence each time I leave my “morning session”, has come to a halt… My time in the Word has seemed fruitless and dry. I tend to leave the coffee table with more questions than answers, more discouragement than hope.
What I know, deep down, to be true, doesn’t feel true- and I have quickly found myself to be spiritually disoriented.
I know I’m not alone. I realize that seasons of silence, doubt, or just plain lack of emotion are common to every Christian. Whether they last a week, month, or longer, it seems that no matter how hard we work to stir up God’s love within us, there are simply times when we don’t “feel” God.
I find it fascinating that the Federal Aviation Administration’s instructions for pilots facing spatial disorientation is extremely applicable to the Christian facing their own “starless night”.
The FAA instructs its fliers, “If you experience a visual illusion during flight (most pilots do at one time or another), have confidence in your instruments and ignore all conflicting signals your body gives you. Accidents usually happen as a result of a pilot’s indecision to rely on the instruments.”
In cases of spatial disorientation, inexperienced pilots will panic in these low visibility situations, and in doing so may tragically drive their plane into the ground. Ninety percent of these types of plane crashes will end fatally.
The experienced and grounded pilot, however, knows that when disorientation occurs, they must trust the readings on their control board and the instructions from their control tower. They ignore the confusing messages their body is sending them and trust in the training they know to be true.
Just like those pilots, it is easy to grow panicked, doubtful, and accusatory toward the Lord when spiritual darkness hits- even though we know, theologically, that faith is not feeling. But if we allow our disorientation to direct out decisions, we will quickly cause ourselves unnecessary pain.
God has gifted us with a flawless instrument: his Word. And it is especially valuable on those days it doesn’t feel true. Our emotions are not always going to align with the truth of God’s Word. But there comes a time we have to choose to rest in God’s promises when it doesn’t feel natural.
This doesn’t mean we stuff our doubts and complaints down, hoping they’ll disappear. Rather, we must consume more Scripture than ever, recount his faithfulness toward us in the past, and confess to Christ in honesty, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
David left us beautiful examples of this in the Psalms, as his songs expressed both transparency and frustration, faith and praise.
The Lord didn’t expect David to be unphased when he didn’t hear back from the Lord, and the Lord doesn’t expect us to walk without wavering in our faith. He assures us that all we need is a mustard seed of faith (Matthew 17:20). But it is that miniscule mustard seed of faith that we must cling to with all of our might!
And for those out there who feel on the verge of “crashing”… One more truth I could not leave you without: ultimately, God is the one flying our plane- not us! While we must daily focus on “taking up the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16), we must not forget that “no one is able to snatch [us] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). Trust the control board into his hands, and he will lead you home.
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)