Flying Lessons

(This is a guest blog from Jacob Courtney. We always love to hear from Jacob.)

I love flying. I’ve had a fascination with airplanes ever since I was little. I used to sit in computer class in middle school and turn the monitor away from the teacher so I could spend the class period looking at pictures of airplanes instead of practicing typing. To me, an airplane represents absolute freedom. When I’m in a plane, I’m no longer a mere earth bound mortal!

A few weeks ago I began my first flying lessons. The instructor is a good friend of mine. We started by a few late night visits to Jack in the Box while we’d eat hamburgers and he’d explain the physics of flying and throw in one or two stories of his crazy adventures in a plane. The first thing I learned about flying is “What makes an airplane fly?” The answer is lift. More specifically lift created by wind over the wings. It’s pretty simple. So on a Wednesday afternoon, I got to experience getting in the cockpit and taking off! It was such a rush. I was a little nervous as I slowly pulled back on the control wheel as we barreled down the runway. The plane gradually lifted off the ground. We steadily climbed to 3,000 feet. I could see downtown Nashville below me. We began flying above the Harpeth river and turning with the bends. After I settled in a bit, my instructor decided to go back and revisit our first lesson that I learned at Jack in the Box at 2 am. What makes an airplane fly? So he throttled up and pulled the plane straight up into the clouds. It climbed slowly as the engine roared. Then it sputtered slightly. Then we began falling backwards towards the ground at 1,000 feet per minute. I panicked. I gripped the door and my seat belt with white knuckles. My heart leapt into my throat. My stomach tied itself in knots. It’s nerve racking to say the least when your airplane that costs less than a Toyota corolla is tumbling towards the ground. I then looked over at my instructor who isn’t looking at the controls or out the window. He’s looking directly at me and calmly asking over and over, “What makes an airplane fly?” “THIS IS NO TIME FOR TRIVIA!” I wanted to scream, but the words were frozen in my throat. We’re falling out of the sky and the only guy that can fly the plane is trying to play a game of twenty questions with me! I wanted to grab the radio and yell, “May-day! May-day! We’re going down and my instructor went crazy!” Yet, he calmly and persistently kept whispering, “What makes and airplane fly?” Finally, I was able to choke out, “wind over the wings.”

“Correct!” he exclaimed as he barely nudged the nose of the plane forward and the plane began flying perfectly as if nothing happened.

“That was a stall,” he said. A stall is when the plane is no longer flying. And all you do to correct it is point the plane in the direction that puts wind over the wings.

I think Peter would’ve been a good pilot. Peter always seemed to be the disciple out in front of the pack, wanting to soar! He was the one that jumped out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus. He’s the one to whom Jesus said, “And upon this rock I will build my Church.” And Peter also stalled a lot. He stopped flying. While Jesus was on trial, Peter was asked three times if he knew Jesus. Peter denied Jesus, his best friend, each time. That was a moment when Peter stopped flying. Even when Peter had the courage to jump out of the boat and began to walk on water, he eventually began to sink. He began to doubt. He stopped flying.

If Peter would’ve made a good pilot, it’s because he had a great instructor. In both situations, Jesus was calm and gently pointed Peter in the right direction. After Jesus was raised from the grave and reappeared to the disciples, He asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?” He was gently nudging Peter in the right direction to fly again. Peter began to sink when he was out on the water and Jesus took his hand and said, “Why do you doubt?” Jesus was pointing Peter in the right direction to fly.

Since my first lesson, I now have to practice stalling the plane. I don’t practice stalling the plane so that I know how to stall a plane. I practice stalling the plane so that I know how to recover and fly again should something happen unexpectedly.

A stall no longer scares me. I know what to do if it happens. I know how to turn the plane. It’s easy. It’s harder when things start going wrong in my life. I keep panicking. If unforeseen circumstances come my way and make me stall, I panic. If my sins make me stop flying, I panic. Yet, Christ is always there by my side quietly whispering, “Come to me, all who are weary.” I simply have to point my gaze back on Christ, not on my circumstances. At that moment, I begin to fly again. And once my eyes are on Christ, the sky is the limit.

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