I fly on airplanes a lot! I can likely tell you what are the best restaurants and coffee spots and where to find an outlet to recharge your phone with a comfortable chair in many airports. I often fly alone and entertain myself watching other people. I watch how people treat airline employees. I watch how people sprint because one plane got in late and they don’t want to miss their connecting flight. Running with luggage and children through crowds is accepted in airports; anywhere else people would think there was a scary emergency. I’ve had flights canceled, delayed, and rerouted; in-flight u-turns; crazy amounts of turbulence (one time the coffee from the drink cart almost hit the ceiling); and many travel stories including suddenly riding in a car at 4 a.m. from Tulsa to Wichita with Irish strangers.
Surprisingly, I’ve learned a lot about working in ministry through my airport adventures. For example, agents at the airport work with whoever is right in front of them, solving whatever is needed, often not becoming overwhelmed by the crowds looming. This was especially helpful to me when I overslept and missed a flight in Guatemala. I’ve used this image when I feel overwhelmed by my inability to give individual attention to the hundreds of students at camps. I focus on whoever is in front of me and give my full attention.
One time after being told about a long travel delay, I told the agent who rebooked my ticket, “I’m disappointed, but I know that little can be done, and I’m sorry for those who may yell at you.” She said, “If you’re bored you can watch the angry show with each person I help after you.” Richard Rohr (one of my favorite theologians) said, “Anytime we are not in control we suffer.” Rohr then gave the example of being stuck in traffic. When we can release our lack of control to God, we can experience freedom in the suffering.
Another spiritually influential time in my travels where I lacked any control was during a time of horrific turbulence. Since I fly so frequently I’m rarely afraid of the rattles and bumps. But this was different, and all I knew was we had to leave our seatbelts securely fastened until further notice. The flight attendants had to stay seated as we rattled and endured leapfrog through the skies. Next to me was an off-duty pilot catching a ride back home. He calmly read his book next to me while I thought of the imminent destruction ahead. “Well, if you’re calm,” I said to the pilot, “I’ll stop preparing myself for a crash.” He said, “This is nothing—you should see how we fly when we don’t have passengers. Pilots don’t work to avoid the choppy air when we’re only transporting boxes.” This reminded me of the bible verse that says, “Do not be afraid….” Sometimes I have to look to the understanding and experience of discerning people when I am overcome with my own fear.
May we all keep learning from whatever our days bring!