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!
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
About the Author
Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. Marc directs catechist and discipleship leader formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. He is married, has two teen boys, and writes about Catholic spirituality and how to share the Faith on his personal blog.