I am a frequent flyer.
Technically, I used to be a frequent flyer—before the pandemic.
I used to get on these things called airplanes at places called airports to go to things called meetings. But when I do or did fly, I actually have a fear of flying. So, because I think this way, I did some research and discovered that when you're on a plane, turbulence is generally only dangerous on takeoff and landing. So, those are the time when I'm most stressed. I don't drink, but if I did, that would be the time I would!
What happens on an airplane facing turbulence is short lived.
Once I was on a plane when the pilot was trying to land in Phoenix during a storm. He came down once and at the last minute pulled up. Everyone gasped. After a second attempt was aborted, he said we didn't have enough fuel to divert, so he was going to try a third time.
I have never been in a more tense moment, but the whole event was over in probably 20 minutes.
Our bodies are designed to have certain responses like flight or fight in sudden moments of upheaval or danger. The challenge for us now is that turbulence has become a regular part of life involving multiple facets over a period of months. It's no understatement to say that turbulence has produced stress in us. Long term stress is not good for us personally, interpersonally, or physiologically; nevertheless, here we are.
Turbulence produces stress
There are four things related to turbulence.
First, turbulence produces stress.
A certain amount of stress is good for us. We stress our bodies when we exercise, for instance.
There are actually two kinds of stress. There is distress. That's what we normally think of, and that kind of stress over the long haul is not healthy.
But there is also eustress, or good stress.
That's the stress an athlete feels just before playing a ball game or I feel just before I preach. It's a good stress that gives us focus for the matter at hand. But too much of a good thing can also be bad. If we constantly live in a state of stress, good or bad, it will bring a negative impact to our lives.
The stress that has become a part of our life creates challenges long-term. We have to find ways to create a rhythm of life that is new in COVID-19 time. It is also multifaceted because of the various ways states, churches, and individuals have responded to it and the varied and still somewhat misundertood ways the virus works.
We can add to this the concerns in our culture right now and the deep division we see. We're concerned about racial divisions and how that might impact people who are on the margins. We're concerned about our political divisions.
We're concerned about finances. We’ve watched the Dow, or we see our personal finances, and we're concerned about our future. We're concerned about our families. I have two daughters who were both planning to go physically to school this fall but are currently going to school online in our basement. The stress is real. We can't wave a magic wand and make that stress go away. I think we all feel it and to manage our new level of ongoing stress has to be something that is prioritized and managed.
Turbulence produces tension
Second, turbulence actually produces tension.
Like stress, some tension is good. Belts on a car and rubber bands work well with some tension. But too much tension and they snap.
Let me just be transparent.
I've been married for 33 years this summer, and we are blessed with a really good marriage. Donna is an introvert, while I'm an extrovert. When President Trump shut down the country in March and then extended it into April, I said to her, "So is this a good thing for an introvert? You get like another month and you get to hang out at home." I was trying to be funny. Her response to me was, "Are you going to be here the whole month?"
She was being funny, too. It was gracious and loving.
Yet, until we got in a new rythm, those were a couple of tough months.
More broadly, I've been shocked by the tension created by the turbulence in the culture in a very strong and stable relationship. I want to encourage us to speak softly and turn away from wrath, to have the attitude we see in Christ Jesus, as Paul describes in Philippians 2. He tells us to consider others more highly than ourselves.
Turbulence produces innovation
A third thing turbulence produces is innovation. There are things that we've started to do now that will become significant for us in two years that we started only because of the turbulence we face and the questions it raises.
We don't need to come up with new 50 new ideas, but now is the time to ask the question: what should we still be addressing or doing so that we can successfully walk through this difficult time now and moving forward?
Turbulence can produce trust
That statement may surprise you.
The good thing about that turbulence in the airplane landing in Phoenix is that we landed safely; otherwise the focus would have been on a black box after a crash.
Within three months of that Phoenix trip I experienced an actual mayday landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It didn't help my fear of flying. But one of the things I've learned is there are people up front who know much more than I do about aeronautics. Planes are built to withstand turbulence. When I am nervous in a situation like that, I remember I can trust the Lord and I can trust my pilot.
In times of turbulence we have to trust people who have earned some level of trust from us.
Turbulence is here.
It's real. It's not ending anytime soon.
We have to acknowledge the stress and address the tension it creates. I'm still looking for opportunities for innovation and seeking to grow trust with people who are walking through this.
Ultimately, we have to ask the question, Lord, what are you going to do in the midst of this turbulence?
And, move forward in faith.