Soul Bullies vs. Air Route Traffic Control Centers
Yesterday I was invited to go flying with my son and a good friend. Though he has had a private pilot’s license for six years, an instrument rating for four years and a commercial license for a year and has logged hundreds of hours, I still get a little nervous. He assured me that it was a rare August day when the skies would be clear and afternoon thunderstorms were not a threat. He’s lived fifteen hours away for the last year, and I’d be crazy to turn him down on anything he asked me to do this week while he is home, but I found myself fighting a little “What if…” voice in my head.
“What if you crash?” it said. “Your husband and daughter and son-in-law would be left behind to deal with this?”
“What if you don’t go and he crashed and you have to live every parent’s worst nightmare?” it snaked into my head by another route.
Yes, I’m going through this cycle in my head even though flying has been part of my life for thirty-three years, since my third date with my husband who is also a pilot.
I decided to argue back with the voice.
“What if I don’t go and miss a great day visiting some family friends we want to see in the southern part of the state?”
“What if I say no and the invitation for a mother/son day doesn’t come again for a long time?”
“What if I worry and stay home and nothing bad happens or what if I go and enjoy myself and nothing bad happens? What if I let myself believe that all might be well?”
Right there is the deceptive cycle I have spiraled into a few times lately in facing anxiety: I’ve believed there is some sort of cause/effect relationship between my worrying about something and it happening. That simply is not true. Flying is not safer or more dangerous because I am there or not there. The storm clouds don’t start gathering if I decide to go.
The week of our daughter’s honeymoon, I must have had thirty people ask me, “Have you heard from the newlyweds?” At first I proudly said, “No,” thinking to myself, 'Who calls their parents from their honeymoon?' We reared our children to be independent. At the close of the reception, the happy couple hugged us, thanked us, told us they loved us, and were whisked away. It didn’t dawn on me they should call or text…until about the twenty-fifth time I was asked.
Then I started to worry….
Why aren’t they calling?
Did the plane land?
Have they been kidnapped? Taken? Their passports stolen?
Are they just without cell phone service? Is anywhere on earth without cell phone service?
I intentionally never saw the movie Taken so I would not think like this. Obviously, the snake finds its way into the mind whether you’ve seen scary movies or not.
I got onto myself. Surely condemnation would work. I told myself I’ve mothered through summer camps, long trips, boarding school, college, flying lessons, and study abroad with my children; therefore, I shouldn’t feel anxious about this.
“Should” and “should not” were not helpful.
Condemnation didn’t work. Shaming nor preaching helped either.
I wondered if I just hadn’t mothered well enough. Maybe better mothers have daughters who want to stay connected while on their honeymoon. Even as I listened to that thought I knew how twisted it was.
“Soul bullies,” Leeana Tankersley calls them in her new book, Begin Again. Those voices that come at you with fear, anger, hurt, shame or worry.
What is going to happen isn’t affected by whether or not I am anxious or at peace. My feelings don't alter the plans of the universe. So why am I not choosing to be at peace in every situation? I certainly want to be. This is the problem Paul addresses in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The thing I want is to stay calm and remember the truth, but my own mind is not strong enough to do this. Tense muscles and shallow breathing and butterflies in my core tell the real story. It is not simply mind over matter, more will, more discipline, more white-knuckling.
For me, learning to silence the soul bully starts with slowing down and listening. The morning our daughter was due back stateside after her honeymoon I woke up very early. I knew Jesus’s words, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” ( Matthew 6:27) He has spoken that to me in Scripture, so I spoke back to him. I told him the truth: I’ve been listening to these comments and I’ve let them get me wound up and I feel silly for feeling scared but I do. There. I called it what it is. I think this is the spiritual practice of confession.
This is what I think he said back to me…
Just notice it. Call it what it is. It’s only a feeling, not a fact. Don’t give it a voice to become a soul-bully. See it as just a feeling and know that I-in-you can bear it. My strength enters into your weakness. Just come to me with your weakness.
Feelings have no power to determine reality.
They don’t set the ocean’s boundaries.
They don’t create oak trees or hawks.
They don’t implant nesting skills in mother birds.
They don’t tell volcanoes to erupt or the sun to rise.
Soul bullies do not have life-giving power.
They can’t transform, forgive, or love.
They can’t heal.
They can’t twinkle in the night sky or flutter in the wind.
They’re like red dust blown off the surface of a south Alabama dirt road.
Exchange your sorrow for peace, Dear One. Surrender your fear to me.
So yesterday, Christ-in-me won the argument. I went flying. The voice that was trying to become a soul bully, got drowned out as I listened again to what I'd heard from the One who made the expanse of blue sky and put the laws of physics in place.
As I listened to my son talk to two Air Route Traffic Control Centers who were tracking us on radar during the entire flight, I realized how much help is surrounding us as we fly. I could easily feel very small and alone in that tiny box with wings in the sky, but there are people from Atlanta, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida watching us fly across south Alabama. They were talking to my son on and off the entire time we were in the air until they handed us off to local towers for landing on each end. They were constantly watching our position and advising us of other air traffic or weather conditions. Help was available from every direction.
Isn’t that just like God? Help available from every direction.
I wonder if the angels and the great cloud of witnesses work sort of like the Air Route Traffic Control Centers, every inch of airspace being monitored and ready to advise, warn and lead us if only we’d put our headsets on and listen.