Night Flying and the Perils of Comfortable Christianity

Comfortable Christianity instrument panel

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 flying 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.

Photo Credit: Fly For Fun via Compfight cc

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Comments

  1. Ann Osendorf says:

    Great post Marc.
    Sharing it on parish Facebook (and on mine too.)
    Thanks so much!
    ~Ann

  2. So true! You reminded me of what may be my favorite quote from Evangelii Gaudium:

    The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. (EG, 3)

    I needed a little nudge today too. Thanks Marc.

  3. Oh, Marc- what is going on here- I am surrounded with comfortable Christians and I am constantly out of my comfort zone- just making it barely daily. I am glad you wrote it- many people need to wake up/ from sleeping or death/ I am not recalling Jesus being ever comfortable- here on Earth! Why are so many followers living completely opposite lifestyle than was His?
    People believe lies – if they do not see a visible disaster or sin – all must be fine with them. For example- how many think this way :”That other person stole a bread/ he is unemployed / – terrible thing to do! I would never do that!” Yeah, wright!- if you are not paying employees just pay, you are steeling and if you are rich and they are poor, your greed blinds you and u are living in sin for years. Or charging costumers for your products too much. Or when you see how others starve and have no dignity and you are indifferent and do not pressure government to increase minimum wages,disability,etc . and you personally do not give them from your riches, time/ what u usually waste ? It is not politics- it is loving your neighbor! Christ will never do , what majority Christians here are living and they love it ! No saints, or our pope will do it either! So many of us live in painful conditions, caused by comfort and indifference of others! Maybe you do not understand , or think I am crazy or too harsh / not, really- life of many here is living inferno- that is harsh and inhumane! I just want people to see, how comfort, luxury, lies lead towards sin, pain and death/ as you warned us too/ I live in hard conditions, seeing how many wealthy Christians and also regular ones, have no clue how much the abandoned Christ is waiting for them every second, while they live their”normal good”,usual, predictable and comfy lives, without any changes for long years. Stagnating water smells bad. I pray, that changes come soon and majority of Christians will obey Lord, die to themselves and bring hope and love to those, that are hungry, disabled, oppressed, alone, ugly, homeless, immigrants, Natives. Many people believe that missions are South only, not North in the snow, or on their own street or in their town. People are falsely attracted to foreign countries. It looks better and sounds better. When will world realize- God sees everything- hidden things and actions of love. Church needs to serve everyone- who God sends – and yes, first those in your town, street, family- those forgotten and suffering. Not rich friends inviting rich friends for dinners, not fat feeding fat, but just as Christ was teaching- those who can’t repay you!

    • I think there’s so many comfortable Christians because it’s hard to stay watchful for long. We get tired and then get complacent. It’s human nature to operate in seasons. Our enthusiasm is strong for a while perhaps but then it wanes. Maybe we don’t see the results of our prayer or it doesn’t seem like anything is changing in our lives and we slack off. I think that’s why the virtue of perseverance is so important and so emphasized by the saints. What counts is not the sprint. The race is a marathon. Christians have to learn to play the long game. It’s your disposition when you die that counts. That’s why we pray for a happy death. So, we have to cultivate the habit of being aware and not letting ourselves fall asleep. Sometimes it will happen and we just have to shake ourselves awake and begin renewed. But you’re right, it happens a lot. Perhaps we should pray more for those we think might be asleep, eh? That the Lord will give them a holy nudge.

  4. “Don’t get comfortable spiritually.”

    How do you avoid this?

    • Just don’t let yourself get on autopilot. Keep up your devotions, continue to study, pray regularly, practice discernment (like the Ignatian Examen), fast regularly for causes and for your own spirituality (that probably does more than anything to keep you uncomfortably Christian). Most importantly, recognize your weakness and that you can fall. Just because you’re a committed Christian doesn’t mean you have it all sown up. You have to try to improve, become more virtuous, overcome faults, struggle against sins, or you’ll move backwards. You can’t just rest on your achievements even if you’ve come a long way spiritually. And, even more important, remember that the Christian life is really a battle. There’s warfare happening on the spiritual level and if you don’t choose to fight, you’re already a victim.

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