Fear of Flying

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“In the rattling chaos of exertion, I can’t hear Jesus.”

Fear of flying
I have a fear of flying. This is a problem because I travel fairly often and fairly daunting distances. The worst moment is not takeoff or landing, during which I grip both armrests and whisper, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” The worst moment is not even when we hit turbulence, during which I take deep breaths and close my eyes. The worst moment is when the planes have just reached their cruising altitude and the pilots ease up on acceleration. There is a sudden quiet. No more thrusting, no more ear-rattling noise to confirm the plane’s operational capability. Just quiet, peaceful soaring. It is in this precise moment when all obvious effort diminishes that I fully expect the plane to drop like a taxi into a Djiboutian pothole.

The silence is disturbing, the ease disconcerting. I find the noise and strain, the bustle and ruckus of takeoff far more reassuring. We can’t possibly remain in the sky if there is no evidence of labor, if all I need do is lean back against the headrest and read a book.

Like with airplanes, on earth I am most comfortable in the place of effort and hard work. The expectations are clear – namely, effort and hard work. There is the bustle and ruckus to dwell on, to distract from feelings of guilt, doubt, failure, timidity, terror.

But the thing is, in all that noise, in the rattling chaos of exertion, I can’t hear Jesus. All I can hear are my own stumblings in the dark, my thrustings for altitude, and my gaspings from the exertion, my cursings when I look down and find I haven’t even left the ground.

Sometimes in my faith journey these moments arrive when all the working and the accelerating vanishes and the bottom drops out and I’m sure this whole thing is going down. But it is in precisely those moments, when I enter silence and begin to rest, that I become aware of nudges I wouldn’t have noticed with my foot on the accelerator.

Nudges toward intimidating, risky things, big and small things, things I can’t see the ends of or guarantee the results of. Like moving to Africa. Like signing up for a marathon. Like stopping at a makeshift restaurant and asking the women if I can sit for a few days and learn from them. Like working with the Djiboutian English newspaper. Like saying, ‘I will trust you Lord,’ regarding boarding school for my kids. Or saying ‘yes’ to a literary agent.

My stomach lurches and squeezes and I grab onto the armrests and whisper, “Jesus.” And he whispers back, “In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.”

See, the thing about soaring, the thing I find both frightening and exhilarating is, airplanes are designed to do it. So I’m going to try, in those quiet moments, to lean into what I am designed for, to continue saying, “Jesus,” and continue saying, “Yes,” and I’m going to soar.

What do you need to say ‘yes’ to so you can soar?

Image credit: Tina Francis

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Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, EthnoTraveler, the Desiring God blog, and Skirt. She lives, writes, and runs in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.djiboutijones.com.
Rachel Pieh Jones
Rachel Pieh Jones

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