“People who have a problem with flying…don’t. What they have is a problem with their lack of control.”
A flight attendant told me that recently. I used up every last frequent flyer mile I had to purchase a Delta One suite so that my daughter and I could fly it home from Washington D.C., following her 8th-grade trip because that is CREATING FUN.
I hate flying. I do a lot of it, but air travel has always freaked me out. Paying the big bucks for a lounge experience at 38,000 feet helped at first, but then we hit turbulence, and all the points in the world couldn’t buy it away.
Meanwhile, Elise is sitting next to me, eating a cookie and smiling without a care in the world.
I want to be like a child.
Let me rewind.
A couple of weeks ago, I surprised my friend, Matt Shatto, with a ticket to an event called The Lock Inn at the Oxbow Hotel in Downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Each quarter, one of my favorite artists — Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, together with his bandmate Sean Carey — puts on a unique performance, “paired” with food and drink and an overnight stay at the hotel.
There are only thirty packages available for each of these limited experiences. I’ve been once before, so this time — especially now that my daughter is winning dance competitions throughout Southern California as choreographed to Bon Iver’s song, Creeks — I knew that I had to find a way to talk to Justin.
I had to make a conversation happen.
Naturally, then, I snuck and hid inside a walk-in freezer, feeling pretty creepy, and asked Matt to play lookout for me so that I could catch Justin before he left for the evening. It worked. I got to give him a thank you letter with the letter I gave to Elise that included a link to her solo dance. We talked briefly about his upcoming performance with TU Dance in D.C the following week, which I’d also be attending.
During our conversation, Matt asked Justin a question: “How do you do it?”
What he meant (I think) was, “How do you create? How do you make the music you do? How did you get to where you are? How do you make this kind of life work? How can you explain this in a way that makes actionable sense to me?”
Justin responded with something to the degree of, “I’m thirty-seven years old, man. Don’t ask me that. You think I know?”
And then — with that artistic-ethereal-thing, albeit slightly more grounded — “Trust.”
Matt hated that answer.
I can’t say it sits naturally with me, either, but it’s been stuck in my brain ever since.
Let me rewind.
Before either trip — to Wisconsin or to D.C. — I took a group of Hillsong Youth Leaders to the spa around the corner from my house. I recently hired one of the LA campus Youth Pastors to work for me full-time as a project manager and assistant, and we’ve been trying to figure out a way to support and pour back into the staff there.
The leaders are young — early twenties, maybe — and we were having a conversation about God’s will. I realized anew how deeply ingrained the idea of a life calling is in a young person’s mind, and particularly in the church.
It’s not that I don’t believe calling exists — after all, I remember the Lord specifically leading me to youth ministry, myself, after graduation — but I sometimes wonder if our paranoia about whether or not we’ve found it is, well…founded.
Everyone, sweating in the sauna that day, sat so convinced that there are specific, life-altering decisions to be made, and they are either inside or outside of God’s will, and that His will is somehow knowable (or, at least, discoverable).
But also: mysterious…
And also: (at least potentially) at conflict with the actual desires of a person’s heart.
Which begs the question (and stokes the fear): What if I make the wrong decision?
How does that not lead to paralysis?
Meanwhile, I’m sitting there as a 42-year-old man thinking,
“Do you have kids?
Are you married?
Do you have a dog?
‘No’ to all three?
Get out there and do what you want to do!!!”
When I left my job at a church to start Fireproof Ministries as a twenty-two-year-old, I specifically remember thinking, “I can get this job back if I need to.” At this stage in life, I’m answering “yes” to all three questions — married, with kids, and a dog that I swore I’d never own — but I just received the final edits on a statement announcing my departure from quarterbacking the ministry I began when I was these kids’ age.
At this point, it’s way harder to think about doing something else now than it was back then. And yet, both as a young man and here again at the start of something new, I am forced to practice trust.
I don’t want to be reckless, but I don’t think life’s as regimented as we grow up believing it is. Or, at least, it’s not as locked in as I thought that it was, and I don’t think it’s as locked in as my spa day friends think it is, either. (And no, for anyone wondering and before I get into trouble, I did not pass out special brownies to the Hillsong youth leaders for our day in the jacuzzi.)
I’m not sure God always gives us clear and audible yes or no answers to specific, directional questions we have about which path to take before we simply step foot on one of them and begin walking.
Is trust really that if we’re already in control of the outcome?
Why don’t we trust the process?
And will past evidences of the grace of God ever be enough to console our restless anxieties about the present moment (let alone the future)?
To come full circle: I want to be like a child.
Children don’t have much control over anything. Therefore, children don’t have much choice in the matter: they must trust (and shame on anyone who takes advantage of that innocence). Assuming they have healthy and loving caretakers, I doubt they think much of whether or not they should trust, either…they just do.
It reminds me of the Apostle Peter, who didn’t stop to ask Jesus if he could have Aquaman’s superpowers to be crystal clear about his ability to run on the water before he did it. He just did it, and the sinking began when he abandoned the moment for second-guessing his actions in the presence of the One who upheld him in the first place.
When I asked our flight attendant if she ever feared turbulence the way that I always have, she responded, “No. My husband is a pilot, and I’ve been flying for thirty-six years, now. People who have a problem with flying…don’t. They have a problem with their lack of control.” She decided long ago to relinquish control and trust the process.
So, I laid down in my weird airplane bed and thought, “Why shouldn’t I?”
I thought, “This airplane is going to land the same way that Justin Vernon’s songs do. The same way they did land last week in Wisconsin when a largely unplanned jam-session became an awesome experience for an audience with an opportunity to watch his trust in action.
Perhaps it’s not meant to be explainable. Perhaps — however frustrating or scary to Matt or to me or to a twenty-something searching for direction (or to you, reader) — the “answer” is let go.
Let go, frankly, seems synonymous mainly with faith amid a trust-fall, like closing your eyes, crossing your arms and falling backward off of the picnic table in the schoolyard, believing your friends will make good on their word to catch you.
I’ve sought (and, mostly, been in) control for my whole life, and most of the decisions I’ve made have been stepping into something that I am still in control of.
Right now, though, I’m in a season of stepping out, and if I’m honest — I don’t have a clear picture, like I normally do, of what exactly that means.
What I do know is that it’s not the same as stepping down. For that matter, it might not be stepping up, either.
I think, rather, that stepping out might also be a kind of stepping aside — aside of my comfort, my control, my self.
Whether it’s trusting that stepping out of XXXchurch is the right move, or whether it’s trusting that this newfound vulnerability is worth putting out into the world. Or believing that paying forward what I’m learning might matter to someone — that it’s going to land, that it’s going to help, that it’s going to be worthwhile — I know that I’m learning anew what it means to “take steps of faith,” as it were.
It feels similar to the way it did when I stepped “out” of the traditional church role I was in twenty-some years ago — and although I can empathize with my friends who want certainty in similar positions — I know now that the sweet spot is the fall, itself: