Updated: May 25
Being stuck in your own stuff can make you feel grounded. But when God puts you in a holding pattern, it might just be the best part of the flight if you have the spiritual fuel to stay airborne. My “baby” brother, a retired Air Force Lt. Col. and public-school aerospace instructor, will probably appreciate this metaphor, as well as its spiritual significance, better than most. It can be an instructive frame in helping us understand that the divine delays in our mad-dash, microwave-minute of a world are not necessarily denials.
Life Lessons from Aviation
In aviation, holding patterns are maneuvers employed when it becomes necessary to slow or stop an aircraft’s projected course. This can happen for any number of reasons including congested traffic and unsafe landing conditions. Usually following an oval pattern, a plane can be kept on this path for long periods of time, waiting for clearance to proceed.
Similarly in life, we can find ourselves in situations in which we feel we’re going in circles, neither here nor there, not making progress or reaching our destination.
That’s how I felt when I initially began my healthcare journey earlier this year with joint issues that affected my mobility. It was a hard bench for me. A life-long nature lover, walker, yoga practitioner, and active grandmother with a rewarding ministry and executive-life coaching practice, I see now why family and friends called me "busy." My pace and lifestyle changed tremendously as the pain in my hip joints grew unbearable.
My Personal Journey
Perhaps it was the wear and tear from all the years of gymnastics and sports in my youth. Maybe it was simply age. Whatever. Last month, I joined the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of Americans having joint replacement surgeries. While my doctor says I am making great progress following a total hip replacement, the recovery process feels like waiting for top-shelf molasses to pour from its bottle. With yet another surgery on the horizon, the timeline for a full recovery is longer than than I anticipated.
Both of my hip joints were, in the technical terms of the physician assistant, "a mess." Still unable to walk without considerable pain, I am stuck in a balancing act between exercising and strengthening my amazing new joint while giving the worn out joint the rest it cries out for daily. The second surgery looks imminent. But that, too, will require another round of waiting, and recovery and rehabilitation time.
With my mobility severely, albeit temporarily, in check, I find I am not only in a physical holding pattern but an emotional and spiritual one as well. Now, I see why orthopedic surgeons load their patients up with resources on managing anxiety and and depression before surgery. No longer being able to serve, juggle, and be the dynamo for others in the ways I used to be has shut the door on quite a few things.
However, my eyes, especially the ones of my heart and mind, have been opened in unexpected ways. When God calls us to see and operate on a different, and unfamiliar, energetic level, I'm convinced it is to inform and prepare us for what’s next. We can choose to doubt, worry and fret or we can choose to trust God that whatever “the next” might be it will be for our higher good and for a good purpose.
Fuel Up Your Faith
Trusting God, according to scripture (Proverbs 3:5) goes a step further than belief. It brings you into a realm of complete confidence and assurance that eventually leads into some type of action. It's the brand of faith known in church circles as "holy boldness." This is the brand of faith fueling my spirit as I hold on and wait for the next surgery and final clearance.
Feeling low on fuel? Not quite sure you have enough faith? We can ask God to supply us with enough spiritual fuel to handle our delays. When we learn to trust God, our holding patterns can actually become periods of deep rest and healing.
They can be a time of opening our hearts and allowing God to speak to us in new ways. They can also be a period of enlightenment, showing us aspects of ourselves, others and our relationships we need to see in order to move on. Paradoxically, spiritual delays can actually be the most productive part of the flight. God can and will provide you with the power you need to keep flying until it’s the right time for you to land.
Below are some self reflection questions. Please feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.
What holding patterns have you found/find yourself in?
What role does your faith play in fueling you?
How can people in holding patterns build more fuel supplies?