One of those frustrating airline moments…we had just pushed back from the gate but then had stopped on the taxiway; as the minutes ticked by without movement toward the runway, it became clear that something was amiss. There are some disadvantages to having been in the Air Force–you can pick up little, telltale signs (like engines powering up, then powering down) that something isn’t quite right preflight.
Soon enough the captain came over the intercom, “Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but one of the engine generators doesn’t seem to be working and after consulting with maintenance we are going to return to a gate to have the problem checked out…as soon as they can find us a clear gate.”
Ha! This was at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport; the last time they had a clear gate was just after Wilbur said to Orville, “Hey, shucks, this thing works! You didn’t die!”
Almost immediately passenger frustration began to rise. Sure, everyone was pleasant enough for the first few minutes–laughter and airplane “war stories” bounced around the cabin. But just beneath the surface banter lurked a simmering frustration.
I saw it in my fellow passengers…the smiles that too quickly faded to frowns…the jokes and stories told with ever sharper edges and more pointed punch lines. The babies who seemed to intuitively know that they’d have longer to wail in their lap bound disappointment.
And I felt it in myself. I tried to decipher my own emotional churn. Was it just that I’d be late? And that I wondered how late? Was it the disappointment of delayed connection with loved ones I hadn’t seen in too long? Was it that an already short trip was being compressed like it had been tossed into some Travelocity trash compactor?
I don’t think the frustration centered on the details or the delays…as annoying as those things can be. And I don’t think it was that folks really wanted to travel on a plane that might not have been safe…I mean, who in their right mind would?
I think it was this: we want control. And when we run into circumstances that shatter our illusion of control, we rebel.
Giving over control of any aspect of our lives runs counter to our desire to be masters of our own fate–even though that desire can never be realized. All kinds of things can shred the bogus notion of self-control–they range from the grand to the bland: illness, wayward kids, job loss, flat tires. When anything along that grand to bland spectrum targets me, I respond with the same simmering frustration that wrung the passengers’ spirits on that Atlanta tarmac. I want control; I want it now; and you (especially you) had better not mess with it.
Isn’t that what Adam and Eve wanted? Isn’t that what most of Israel’s and Judah’s kings wanted? Isn’t that what the Sons of Zebedee wanted in Mark, Chapter 10? Isn’t that what you want? I know it’s what I want.
We work so hard to construct a zone of personal control, little realizing that it’s like a hyper inflated balloon just hanging in the air waiting for some circumstantial pinprick to make it go “Pop!”
“What is your life?” James asks. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14,15). God is not opposed to our investment in careful planning. He is just opposed to the idea that we ultimately control anything. And He is most opposed to our presumption and our attempted assumption of His sovereign prerogative.
Fortunately, this time, I’ll give Delta props (well, it was actually a jet, but you linguistic hipsters know what I mean)…just under an hour later we were on a replacement plane–winging our way to our destination. Funny thing, as soon as the new ride took off, even cocooned in a vulnerable metal tube at 35,000 feet, we all (at least I know I did) settled back into our illusion of control.
It seems this is a lesson I’m forced to relearn. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 7:25a).
(c) All rights reserved; Scripture quotations from the NIV (Zondervan).