A Quiet Plane Ride

“Rest. Rest. Rest in God’s love. The only work you are required now to do is to give your most intense attention to His still, small voice within.”
Madame Jeanne Guyon

A quiet plane ride. That’s all I wanted.

He came in as they shut the doors, after everyone else was seated and settled in, hustling and bustling like someone who leads others with a firm hand. Short outbursts blasted into his cell phone made clear he considered some things “unacceptable,” and the hireling on the other end best do his bidding – or else.

That cell call was during flight preparations for takeoff. That’s an aeronautical no-no. I should have guessed it then. If this man didn’t care about skewing plane instruments or corrupting the sound waves between the pilot and the tower, then he wouldn’t care about my quiet plane ride. I could see only one seat available on the packed plane before me.

Glancing painfully at the seat beside me in the back row, I realized that he was headed straight for me. My five hours of bliss quickly melted before my eyes.

As soon as he sat down, my new best friend began to speak to me as if I had nothing better to do than to listen to whatever happened to be on his mind. I quickly took stock of the personality, environmental and social factors in our small back row, and deduced that this conversation could last for an hour or less. Then, within two more sentences he had brought up the subject of God, and his violent agnosticism.

I hadn’t mentioned my vocation, nor my faith, yet he seemed to discern something devout about his trapped traveling partner (at least I like to think so). My wife tells me that people seem to sense that I’m some sort of priest, confessing their dirty laundry to me without provocation (my neighbour a few years back began to spill her heart to me regarding her divorce a decade earlier – while I stood on her front porch in slippers waiting for a cup of sugar).

I could physically feel my quiet flight quickly slipping away. My flight, that is. A five hour flight – could this conversation last that long? Within the first fifteen minutes, I knew it both could, and would.

His little girl is very sick. His ex has custody, but his little girl is her daddy’s girl. He hates God. Twisted, Sick Immortal Masochist, that’s what He is. “Why not?” he says, carrying on a dialogue with himself. Whose fault is this, anyway? Who do I see about this? Bark, ramble, ramble, bark, ramble.

Then, another voice speaks, only this time, it’s not a human voice.

“Susan.” It rang deep inside me, and the still, small voice is familiar.

He was on a roll, oblivious to my inner querying. He hates her disease and he hates the One who could stop it. He’s killed people – not God, but him. He had to.

He was a military man, and he had orders to kill a string of drug dealers in a foreign land. He did his duty. He hates himself for it, for doing what he deems was so right to do. Yet, his hands are bloody, so he has to pay that back somehow. “You can’t take life without giving life back,” he says, further carrying on his one way conversation.

He wants to save life, love life, give life. He has to pay back what he took from a few people. He has to save people. But he can’t save his little girl, or himself. And did I mention, he hates God?

“Susan.” The voice rings through again.

He has money, he has hobbies, he has a semblance of relationship with his kids. Except for his little girl. They have everything together, in a real way. She’s dying, but there is something he can’t understand about her. She wants to heal others; she wants to change the world by healing people of sickness. He hates the suffering, but her eyes and her hope might actually change the world one day. She has compassion, because she herself suffers. She wants to cure Aids. She’d like to cure cancer on the backstroke.

“Susan.”

Three hours have passed. He hasn’t introduced himself; nor have I. I was hoping to stay a few feet away from becoming best friends.

“Susan.” Now, I’ve got to check this out, and see if at the same time I can stay just this side of appearing to be a fruitcake.

“What’s your little girl’s name?” I ask.

“Rachel” he says.

My heart drops. You dummy. You can’t hear God’s voice. Your CD is just skipping again – mental fritz after soulish glitch.

“Susan.”

Now I’m in for it. “Susan,” whoever she is, won’t leave my mind. The name has been there relentlessly since the conversation began. I have no choice. If I don’t ask, I risk his loss and mine. If I don’t ask, I risk losing something more precious with God. If I ask, I may look like a lunatic if I’m wrong. If I ask, I may be convinced again that I am losing my mind again, as I seem to wonder on a weekly basis.

“Who is Susan, and what part does she have in your life?” There, I said it.

His jaw goes slack. His face whitens. He stares at me. At least ten seconds, which is a long time for a stare.

“H-h-how do you know Susan? She’s my girlfriend. I’m going to call her and break up with her as soon as we land. How did you know her name?” Tears fill his eyes. Tears fill my eyes. “H-h-how did you know that?”

I respond boldly now. “She’s your window to God and His pursuit of you, isn’t she? You find it hard not to believe in anything when you’re around her. You find her too insightful, too understanding, too sensitive, even to the point of irritation. You’ve had enough. God’s on your doorstep, and she’s His vehicle of choice. She tells you that you need God, and so does she.”

“Yes, that’s right.” His eyes are red. His face is distant. The tears are on his trembling cheeks now.

“She, for now, is God’s voice to you. You are touching Him through her life, because she reminds you that God exists, and that He won’t let you go no matter what you do. She knows you too well.”

“She’s too religious for me. She cares too much. She sees too much.”

“She sees you, and the truth of who you are. She’s on a journey to God as well, and He is calling your name through her desire for God to be real in her life.” The big man beside me, is now a quiet puppy in the arms of God.

A token. God loves the killing man so much he seats me beside him, against my wishes, and tells me the name of His access point into the man’s heart. The daughter is one thing. The girlfriend is the spotlight of the moment. God says, “I love you and I know you,” through my disgruntled obedience.

The audience has now taken the stage. He listens for the next hour. We talk about God, His Son, his daughter, his pain, forgiveness, redemption. Even Buddha; he started that one for fun.

Shaken, we walk together off the plane. He, left to wrestle with God like Jacob, his hip now out of joint. I left to learn my lesson again; that to listen, to live as a Listener, is not just for my own gain. Listening could change your world and mine at the same time. In the place of prayer, God listens for us, and we listen for Him.

“Give your attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

From Matthew 6:34 in The Message

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