Many years ago now, I was on an airplane that had some sort of electrical issue during takeoff. Heat and smoke spread a bit up through the cabin and created a panic (probably mostly in me). At this point, I can’t remember if it was a short in a heating component or an AC unit or something, but what I do distinctly remember is that as I started to process my surroundings this one thought kept running through my head over and over and over again.
Why are we getting further from the ground?
Why are we getting FURTHER from the ground?
WHY are we getting further from the ground?
WHY ARE WE GETTING FURTHER FROM THE GROUND?!
I just could not wrap my head around why the pilot would continue to climb when there was danger. Didn’t he know there was smoke? Smoke clearly meant there was an issue. I mean, there had to be some little alarm going off up in the cockpit, right? Some annoying noise or blinky light that indicated something was amiss. Smoke indicates fire. And fire means we’re all dead. This is not a scenario with a water landing where I could maybe figure out how to use my seat as a flotation device and *maybe* be the one person in 100 that survives and gets their own lifetime movie. This is fire, and there’s no safety seat for that. Why were we climbing further from the ground?
The answer was likely the pilot knew it was a containable issue. Fix the unit, send around the drink cart, everyone will be fine. (At least I hope that’s the case – the thought that the pilot knew nothing and just kept obliviously flying is not really an acceptable possibility for the me that regularly flies.)
But in all sorts of instances, climbing up is a positive game-changer. Pilots climb higher so that they can fly above turbulence. Eagles climb so that they can see and hunt their food, which is sometimes a mile away on the ground or underwater. Leopards will climb trees to rest and eat above ranting hyenas. Zacchaeus climbed a tree so he could take in a view other than a noisy crowd and so he could see Jesus.
Looking up and going up, instead of looking around and wandering around, is the way out or the way to something better. Golfers hate when their balls land “in the rough” because the taller grass makes play harder – they use a special club to hit the ball up and out of it. At work we say things like “you’re in the weeds,” because we want our peers to stop getting stuck in small details – what we mean is we want them to think bigger than themselves and their current situation as they consider solutions to problems.
The common theme is easy: change comes when we stop looking around at the view of our noisy, weedy, hungry, rough, turbulent, whiny, combative and confusing surroundings and we instead decide to pursue up. Even if we can’t see what we immediately need, just like a pilot who trusts that sunshine is above the rain clouds, we raise our head above the rough and the weeds and the crowd and the hyenas, and we look in the direction we’re going – UP – and we climb in that direction.
Up is the way to peace, the way to the food we need to survive, the way to see things differently, and the way to salvation.
Sometimes you need to go higher to see things as they really are. The world is pretty big and the higher we climb above the mud and the muck and the selfishness of our own lives, the more we realize that we are a very tiny minuscule part of the world. And that each day and each hour and each setback and each horrible person and each car that cuts us off in traffic is really just a very tiny minuscule small part of our lives.
When we’re in the storm or the weeds or the rough or the crowd, we can’t even see all the things contributing to our situation. We can’t see all of our surroundings. We can’t see how big the storm is. We can’t see how close our salvation may actually be.
We don’t have real fuller perspective until we go high. And you know what else happens once we go high? It’s not just perspective that we gain. It’s speed. Planes travel faster at higher altitudes. Our fuller perspective allows us to more quickly understand what’s happening and why, and it allows us to progress more quickly toward the healing or salvation or food or peace that we need.
I used to be scared to fly. When I say scared, I really mean terrified. Like, heart beating 130 times per minute, cold sweat, picturing my airplane crashing into the ground in a big ball of fire afraid to fly. I-needed-Xanax-to-fly scared to fly.
I have no idea when exactly that fear disappeared or why that fear is gone. Maybe because I had no choice but to fly regularly regardless of my fear. Maybe because I started trusting my Pilot more. But one day several years ago I found myself not dreading flying, and then on another day I found myself actually enjoying it. I can even sleep on an airplane now and it’s absolutely awesome to enjoy a nap while someone else does all the work to get me where I need to be.
I mostly write or read now when I fly. It’s uninterrupted quiet time, and I don’t get much of that. As I look down at the clouds below me, I am so thankful to be exactly where I am, flying in a beautiful colorful sky. And I am so thankful for the knowledge that the stormy rain, the rough, the crowd, the hyenas, the weeds, and the turbulence are all small from up here, and I can see those things for what they are. They’re all really just noise, designed to steal my peace. It’s my job to hold on to my peace and to stay on course, and from way up here I am reminded that the individual stormy raindrops falling below the clouds I just climbed through are really insignificant in the big scheme of things. Most of those raindrops won’t matter five minutes from now, some won’t matter five months from now, and almost none of them will matter five years from now.
I just needed to get further from the ground to get that perspective.