Kennedy and his wife and sister-in-law were killed because Kennedy failed to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation and possibly other related factors. Will you revisit the story with me today? I promise it will be well worth your time…because it points us to spiritual realities. You see…some of these other factors were:
-Haze and visibility- other pilots flying similar routes on the night of the accident reported no visual horizon while flying over the water because of haze.
-Pilot experience and training- The instructor at the time of the crash was not aware that Kennedy would be flying in those conditions without an instructor on board. He further stated that he had talked to Kennedy on the day of the accident and offered to fly with him that night. He stated that Kennedy had the capability to conduct a night flight to Martha’s Vineyard as long as a visible horizon existed.
-Psychological distress-Kennedy had spent the final three nights of his life apart from his wife at a New York City hotel. Additionally, Kennedy’s magazine, George, was in serious financial trouble. According to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM): “stress from everyday living can impair pilot performance, often in subtle ways. Distractions can so interfere with judgment that unwarranted risks are taken, such as flying into deteriorating weather conditions to keep on schedule”.
-No flight plan or request for help- Kennedy never received a weather briefing or filed a flight plan with any Flight Service Station. Except for the take-off portion of his flight, Kennedy did not contact any air traffic controllers; during the flight, he never requested help or declared an emergency.
-Late departure and flight over featureless open water- Instead of following the coastline, which would have provided visible lights on the ground, Kennedy chose the shorter, direct path over a 30-mile (50 km) open stretch of water, in which case depth perception and orientation may become difficult.
The story consumed many people all over the world for weeks because we just couldn’t imagine those beautiful people’s lives so tragically ended.
I did forget about it eventually until the professor of practical theology at seminary brought it up again. Dr. Douglass gave us an illustration that has stuck in my mind for the last five years. It was this story and how WE can be like Kennedy. Not as we fly a plane but as we exercise our faith. We can choose to fly by the instruments OR we can choose to go with our feelings.
Because one of the first precepts in flying by the instruments (instead of by visual clues which were impossible that night as he flew over the ocean) is to ignore the body’s sensations. Because those sensations can be wrong and are not able to tell us, if we don’t have visual cues, whether or not we are right-side up.
And so I am thinking upon this story this morning…and the implications if I take Dr. Douglass’ suggestion to fly by the instruments instead of my emotions.
Will I fly by what the Word of God says instead of my feelings?
Will I trust it when my mind rushes in to tell me different. The temptation is instant and the feelings are so strong compared the truth at times. It is, to be honest, so much easier to just go with the feelings.
And in looking at what is believed to be the related factors in the crash of Kennedy’s plane, I am considering the other related factors when I crash spiritually. They seem to be very similar. So I’m going to tape these inside my cockpit (inside my kitchen cupboards!)…rules for safe flying:
–Fly By The Instruments – No matter what my feelings are…or how strong they are…I MUST FLY BY THE INSTRUMENTS…God’s Word.
–Say No to the Haze— Saying “No” to sin, is saying yes to being able to see God’s face clearly. The haze of sin causes spatial disorientation for me spiritually. If I look at it like that, maybe that consequence will deter me from some of the sin I go back to. My sin only adds to the challenges present in this world to living the spiritual life God calls me to. When I sin, it makes it all the more difficult to feel close to God. Though I believe that if I am in Christ, I am united to Him and nothing can separate me from Him. I also know by experience, that sin can produce feelings in me that cause me to feel that is not true. It is when this happens that I must fly by the instruments…God’s Word.
– The Importance of Training and an Instructor – The more scripture I know and have in my heart, the better prepared I am for flying in the dark. Those moments that seem to lack God altogether. Those moments when I don’t feel Him. The more scripture in my heart, the more experience I have of using it in the darkness and the better I get at flying by the instruments.
–Decrease Stress – I will not cause myself undue stress. I will consider these things weekly or as needed: What kind of load do I put on myself that doesn’t need to be put on me? What are my expectations? Are they beyond what God or anyone else puts on me? What do I believe OTHERS expect of me and why do I care? What sort of worldly pursuits do I entertain and add to my day that cause stress or take time away which causes stress for me and my family?
–Flight Plan and Call For Help – I will have a plan for my day, week, month, year. I will bring God into that plan and pray over it. I will wait for Him. I will call to Him for help in my daily struggles instead of attempting to deal with the disruptions and frustrations on my own in my own strength. I will have a plan for what that looks like.
Blessings to you for a safe spiritual flight today and always!