Faith and the Fear of Flying

Fear keeps us alive or that is what I thought two years ago. Fear ignites a fight or flight response in your body. It gives you options, and makes you evaluate your situation. I never understood how irrational or debilitating fear could be until my freshman year of college. I was 18, a freshman heading to school. My family and I were flying to Texas for the second time in a row so I could officially move into my dorm. I was unsuspecting as I bordered the plane, thinking it would be a smooth flight. I sat in my assigned seat, watched us take off into the night sky and promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke, the plane was falling, it was shaking and trembling, and luggage was falling out of the overhead compartments. We were experiencing severe turbulence like none I’ve ever experienced before. It was unexpected and frightening. I was afraid. We were falling out of the sky, we were all going to die and all I could think as I clasped my sister’s hand and screamed was “I’m going to die before I go to college. That’s so unfair!” The fear I felt was heart stopping, even as the plane eventually climbed back to its initial elevation and the turbulence ceased the fear remained. I was shaking, alert, afraid and completely helpless but I could not get off the plane. I would have to wait until we landed in two hours. I did not realize in that moment how deep my fear was and how it would affect my life. All I knew was, I wanted to get off that plane.

As an out-of-state student, my opportunities to go home are limited but when they arise, a flight is usually the quickest way home. I did not think flying would be a problem when I chose to go to Baylor but once I got off that plane, I realized it would. Every time I flew, the fear would come back. I would find myself grasping the armrest as if it was my lifeline. All my faith would dissipate as I realized how utterly fragile my life was, how little control I had over everything, and how afraid I was of flying.

I began to avoid flying at all costs. One time I rode the Greyhound for 3 days just to avoid the 3-hour flight. On another occasion, I drove with my mother for 2 days just to avoid that flight. I did not like the way it made me feel, I was being held captive by my fear. However, I began to realize I could not avoid flying forever. I had to face my fears. So, I flew home every couple of weeks. Overtime those flights became a time of mediation. It was in those moments, in the air that I had a glimpse of God’s power over life – over me. I am sure His heart ached when He saw how much I did not trust Him; how much I did not trust His plan for me. I began to pray, read the Bible and listen to gospel music on the flights and soon I looked forward to flying. I stopped checking the weather and turbulence forecaster before the flight and began to leave it all in God’s hands. There are two important lessons I learned from my fear.

1.  Trust God: By trusting God, I am placing my faith in Him and His plan for me. I am letting go and giving him reign over my life. When I trust Him, my problems no longer exist and all fear goes away because it is all for a reason.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

2.  Do not fear:  If you trust God, you should not fear, there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing that can harm you, nothing that can stop you. Fear cripples you, it shakes your faith.

They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, “Where is your faith?”  Luke 8:24-25

Through fear, I learned my faults. I learned that I need to give control to God in all aspects of my life and trust Him. I may not be over my fear of flying completely, but I am slowly getting there. The only way I can ever get better is by facing that fear, by flying and trusting God. While I occasionally reach for my armrest when I feel turbulence, I feel calm a majority of the time. I know that whatever happens on that flight is God’s plan and I trust Him and His plan for me.

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