After my husband Edmund’s sudden death in 1993, I was swamped with details. Life often triggers swarms of minutia, but a sudden death is one of the most intense and complicated situations you can imagine. The details are coming at you constantly, and they may seem to become your entire reality. What I mean to say is, in a time of crisis, the details may become all you focus on. You forget to actually live your life.
A good illustration of this was written by Bernie May who worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS) organization as a pilot. In his training, Mr. May tells us, he was given a critical checklist for what to do if the engine of the plane died suddenly. There were five steps, each incredibly important, that had to be completed in order. Failure to do so would likely cause a crash.
- Bring the landing gear up to reduce drag
- Bring the flaps up to reduce drag
- Throttle the engines, to determine which engine had died
- Feather the dead engine (which means to disengage the propeller on the dead engine)
- Cut off the gas to the dead engine to secure it and prevent or control fire
As part of his learning process, however, his instructor gave Mr. May a further instruction, to be repeated between each of the above steps. This additional instruction, his teacher taught him, was as vital as the checklist.
Fly the plane.
In spite of the above checklist, if a pilot isn’t actually looking at where he is going, he might fly right into the side of a mountain or otherwise lose control of the plane. Remembering to fly the plane becomes a matter of life and death. Flying the plane is, after all, the pilot’s main job. And so it is with us.
In the wake of Edmund’s murder, it would have been easy to focus on those details to the exclusion of everything else. In some ways that might have been comforting. But I was a mother, and I was a Wycliffe Bible translator. I had to find a way to, as it were, fly my plane. No matter what I was experiencing, no matter how comforting it would have been, I had to continue doing the job I was there for in the first place.
Somehow I pulled it off. The plane didn’t crash, and we were able to dedicate the Nabak New Testament in August of 1998, a little over five years after Edmund’s murder.
Now, don’t get me wrong: A crisis slows your pace, and it’s okay to take some time to heal and work through the issues. But with God’s strength we can carry on. We find a way to handle daily needs as well as managing the crisis.
I wasn’t the only one suffering, of course. I knew my children were grieving as well, so it was important I find a way to function. They had already lost their father; it was important they not feel they had also lost their mother in the process. If I had become so absorbed in my own grief at the very time they were needing me to be an example to them, the situation would have been even worse. Edmund and I had raised our children in the way of the Bible. Was all of our Bible teaching just for when the weather was good, when everything was going smoothly? I had to show them it mattered now, more than ever before. And there is something healing about following the routine, doing what you normally do. That provides a stability and a normality in the face of disorder and chaos.
When I think on that time in my life, I remember Psalm 84: 5-7 (NIV)
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
I particularly like the beginning of verse 7, “They go from strength to strength”. From strength to strength, practically speaking, means getting a sink full of dishes done one day, and a load of laundry the next. It means that, by leaning on God, you get the strength to do one small thing. When that is done, you are out of strength. But by leaning on the Lord again, you get the strength to do one more thing. And one more, and one more. Each step might feel like it takes everything you have, but really it’s taking more than you have, and you gain the remaining strength you need through faith. You fly the plane, in spite of the crisis, because He helps you fly it.
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”