Twenty-three years ago I heard an announcement over the intercom that spoke to my soul. Flying home from a summer long mission trip in Canada, two months before meeting the woman who would become my wife, and poised to live for Jesus my junior year at Auburn, I heard what I now know is a routine message for every flight.
“Ensure your seat and tray table are placed in their upright and locked positions.”
Writing in my journal, I quickly jotted down this “word from the Lord.” I recall asking myself, “Is my life in the ‘upright and locked position’?” Then, in my journal, I turned it into a prayer: “Father, see that my life is and stays in the ‘upright and locked position.'” To complete the cycle, I turned the announcement into a declaration: “I will make sure Matt Pearson’s life stays in the ‘upright and locked position’!”
In a sense, this reveals my understanding of the Christian life at the time. On the one hand, I am glad this thought/prayer/declaration came to my mind. I am grateful, as a single junior at college, I wanted to live a “right and good” life. I believe it is good to pray for God’s help to be a solid Christian. Thank you, Lord!
On the other hand, however, it reveals two frightening realities: One, I believed Matt Pearson could reach and keep himself in the “upright and locked position.” Two, I believed the “upright and locked position” meant being religious. Doing good works and avoiding evil ones. Read your Bible. Go to church. Pray. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t cuss. Keep your pants on.
“Upright and locked position” for me was very Matt-centered and works focused.
As I near the end of a 5-week sabbatical, I have heard the same announcement 12 more times. Three different cities. Three different layovers. There and back equals 12 different airplanes. At each and every descent, the flight attendant does his/her job to be sure our seats and trays are where they should be.
Twenty-three years later it feels different. I cringe a bit now at what I thought as I flew home from British Colombia as a twenty-year old. What’s different? I know I can’t keep myself in the “upright and locked position.” I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’ve tried again. I’ve failed again. Only Jesus can keep me. Why do I cringe a bit? Because a life lived in the “upright and locked position,” has nothing to do with how “good” or “bad” I am. Everything hinges, rather, on Jesus. Am I following Him? Am I abiding in Him? Am I looking for Him? Am I becoming more and more open to His kingdom that is a present reality right now on the earth? A life lived in the “upright and locked position” is a depressurized life. It cannot be done on human strength. And it is a focused life. Not on yourself, but on Another.
At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year, and our lifetime – we will give an account of what we did with the One who has always been and always will be in the upright and locked position – doing for us and with us what we can never do on our own.