Fear of Flying

by Rachel Pieh Jones on February 15, 2021

I have a fear of flying. This is a problem because as an expat, I travel fairly often and fairly daunting distances. The worst moment is not takeoff or landing, during which I grip both armrests and whisper, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” The worst moment is not even when we hit turbulence, during which I take deep breaths and close my eyes. The worst moment is when the planes have just reached their cruising altitude and the pilots ease up on acceleration. There is a sudden quiet. No more thrusting, no more ear-rattling noise to confirm the plane’s operational capability. Just quiet, peaceful soaring. It is in this precise moment when all obvious effort diminishes that I fully expect the plane to drop.

The silence is disturbing, the ease disconcerting. I find the noise and strain, the bustle and ruckus of takeoff far more reassuring. We can’t possibly remain in the sky if there is no evidence of labor, if all I need do is lean back against the headrest and read a book.

Like with airplanes, on earth I am most comfortable in the place of effort and hard work. The expectations are clear – namely, effort and hard work. There is the bustle and ruckus to dwell on, to distract from feelings of guilt, doubt, failure, timidity, terror.

But the thing is, in all that noise, in the rattling chaos of exertion, I can’t hear Jesus. 

Sometimes in my faith journey these moments arrive when all the working and the accelerating vanishes and the bottom drops out, like on the plane, and I’m sure this whole thing is going down. But it is in precisely those moments, when I enter silence and begin to rest, that I become aware of nudges I wouldn’t have noticed with my foot on the accelerator.

Nudges toward intimidating, risky things, big and small things, things I can’t see the ends of or guarantee the results of. Like starting a running club. Like signing up for a marathon. Like stopping at a makeshift restaurant and asking the women if I can sit for a few days and learn from them. Like working with the local newspaper. Like saying, ‘I will trust you Lord,’ regarding our school choices for my kids. Or saying ‘yes’ to a literary agent or a publishing house.

My stomach lurches and squeezes and I grab onto the armrests and whisper, “Jesus.” And he whispers back, “In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.”

See, the thing about soaring, the thing I find both frightening and exhilarating is, airplanes are designed to do it. So I’m going to try, in those quiet moments, to lean into what I am designed for, to continue saying, “Jesus,” and continue saying, “Yes,” and I’m going to enjoy the ride.

What do you need to say ‘yes’ to so you can soar?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel writes about life at the crossroads of faith and culture. Her work is influenced by living as a foreigner in the Horn of Africa, raising three Third Culture Kids, and adventurous exploration of the natural world. She has been published in the New York Times, Runners World, the Big Roundtable, and more. Check out her latest book, Stronger than Death: https://amzn.to/2P3BWiK Get all her stories and updates in the Stories from the Horn newsletter http://www.djiboutijones.com/contact/

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