Night Flying and the Perils of Comfortable Christianity

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It was dark outside.

Really dark. A moonless night.

I could hear the hum of the engine. It’s turns rhythmically vibrated up through the seat and all through my body.

The cockpit was illuminated with a dim red light from the instrument panel. It was just enough to see the approach map strapped to my knee, but not enough to obscure the lights from the city below.

It felt warm, cozy, comfortable. The plane was like a little protective cocoon moving me through black sky seemingly insulated from harm. Every now and then the air traffic controller came on the radio and gave us another heading to fly.

It was the coolest feeling. I felt safe.

What’s wrong with comfortable?

I was in flight school doing night instrument approaches at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Instrument flying was one of the most difficult parts of flight training. At least it was for me.

When you can’t see the airport, like at night, you have to navigate by instruments that show your position relative to a radio beacon. If you read the instrument right, you can follow that beacon to the runway and hopefully a safe landing. Of course, reading it right is the tricky part.

The instructor came on the internal radio breaking my little moment of euphoria.

“Feels nice doesn’t it?” he said. “You’ve got the cabin heat going, the bird is running great, and you know you’re not lost because the controller is talking to you. It’s really comfortable. Bet you could get used to flying like this, couldn’t you?”

Yeah, it is…and yes I could! How did he know what I was thinking?

“Well don’t!” he exclaimed sharply into the mic. “When everything’s going right and you feel all cozy and safe, that’s when you get killed. Never let yourself get comfortable up here. You get complacent, you get dead.”

When Christians get comfortable

I’ve been feeling kind of comfortable in my Christianity lately.

Things were humming along. No major crisis of faith. No huge sins wracking my conscience. Everything seemed fine…or so I thought.

I got complacent. And, apparently, in flying and in the spiritual life, you get complacent…you get dead.

I’ll admit, one of the things I liked the least about being a military pilot was always having to “stay frosty.” You have to be constantly aware because danger is always there.

That was continually drummed into our brains in training. You’d be flying along to that day’s training mission and the instructor pilot would suddenly pull the throttle back. “Simulated engine failure,” he’d say, and then you were in emergency mode.

React or die…well, in this case, fail the flight. But you know what I mean. That’s the disadvantage of not being able to pull over to the curb when the curb is 3,000 feet below. And honestly, the danger was real.

Always had to be aware.

I was usually more of a “let’s fly around and enjoy the view” kind of guy. Except when it meant doing aerobatics. I loved flying upside down!

Spiritual awareness

The spiritual life requires constant awareness too. You can’t just cruise along and look at the view. Unfortunately, I kind of naturally fall into that.

It needs attention because engine failure is always close at hand. By that I mean our human nature is fallen and weak. If you’re not vigilant and constantly working to improve by praying, fasting, practicing virtues, and fighting vices, you’re going to fall into sin. If you do nothing, vice is the default.

That old saying is absolutely true. If you’re not moving forward you’re not just standing still…you’re going backwards.

And, that’s not even mentioning spiritual warfare (demons are absolutely real and trying to trip you up) and a world that constantly pulls us away from Christ through temptation and societal pressure.

So, this post is a wakeup call for me…and you, if you need it (and who doesn’t). Stay aware! You have to be constantly testing, improving, watching for trouble, or it will find you.

Don’t get comfortable spiritually. If you get complacent, you get dead.

How have you become too comfortable in your Christianity lately? Got any plans to get out of it? Let me know in the comments; maybe I can help.

Copyright 2014 Marc Cardonella

Photo Credit: Fly For Fun via Compfight cc

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About Author

Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick coming in May from Ave Maria Press. By day he works as director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. By night he writes about Catholic parenting and how to share the Faith on his personal blog. Marc lives in Kansas City with his beautiful wife and two awesome boys.

4 Comments

  1. I am a person who absolutely loves my comfort. It is always a temptation to wrap myself and my family in a cocoon, away from a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. I always have this danger of complacency at my door. Lately I have become very aware of it and am trying to exert myself and grow.

    • I can really identify with cocooning! It’s really funny (and disconcerting) how trials and uncomfortable situations help us grow, isn’t it? I wish it wasn’t that way but it seems that it is. Awareness is the first step toward change I think. God bless you on that road!

  2. I too am finding that I am becoming comfy. When our son was in Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital with a mysterious illness that we thought could be cancer, my goodness were we faithful! I’ve never forgotten the amazing blessings God had given us that time- our son just had a nasty virus and later made a full recovery. But sometimes I find that I fail to pray, because I’m so afraid of the answer, that I’m too scared to even ask. 🙁 I am working on this, however.

    I loved your analogy- my dad always said instrument flying was by far the most difficult part of aviation. I can really appreciate how spiritual complacency can be as deadly as complacency while flying.

    Thank you for this article- and thank you for your service. Many blessings!

    • I think that’s a big one for everyone who takes Christianity seriously…what if God asks too much of me when I do open up to him. Especially Catholics because we always read the lives of the saints and they can be very challenging in their challenges and hardships. I guess it’s helpful to remember the Scripture that says God will never give you more than you can handle, although it doesn’t always feel that way. I think that’s why he gives us uncomfortable moments…hoping we respond with greater trust and love toward him. When we do, we really grow. The trick is maintaining that huh? Keep working, I will too!

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