The shoulder harness pulled tightly against me as I aggressively pushed the yoke forward causing the small aircraft to plunge toward the ground. Navigation charts, notebooks, aircraft manuals, and hidden dust left their resting places and floated to the cockpit ceiling. Plastic molding on the doors creaked and popped as I maneuvered the airplane to its structural limit. “What happened? How did I not see it coming? God, please help us survive this!”
In the dull moments leading up to this event 25 years ago, I was a flight instructor teaching my student how to navigate using instruments. The weather was perfect. The air was smooth. We were flying at 3500 feet near the small university airport with just a few other airplanes in the general vicinity. A beautiful day for flying.
I drew my student’s attention to the instrument panel in the cockpit and provided him with what I believed was expert teaching. So important and necessary was this teaching, I thought, that I paid no attention to what was going on outside the aircraft. In other words, as we say in the aviation industry, I was “heads-down” rather than “heads-up” as I should have been.
Had I been “heads-up” I would have noticed the other airplane flying at the same altitude. I would have noticed it barreling directly toward us at high speed. And, as I would later learn, had the flight instructor in that aircraft been heads-up as well, he would have noticed us. Instead, we were both heads-down. Thankfully, my student glanced up. And thankfully, I noticed the terror on his face.
The two airplanes came within mere feet of disaster as I violently maneuvered our aircraft to avoid a collision.
I was reminded of this event when I read about the recent spate of accidents caused by adults and children being heads-down while playing Pokemon Go. Like me, these people didn’t notice the impending danger.
As I pondered a culture of people living much of their lives heads-down in their devices, I was convicted by how often I myself am heads-down. Not in aircraft. But in my smartphone. My laptop. My online activities and projects that seem so important. So necessary. So urgent.
On most mornings, I grab my smartphone from the nightstand. I scan through email, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and a few sites I visit frequently. Any new Likes or Shares? New subscribers to my blog? Oh, I wonder what Pastor John is saying on Desiring God. Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler might have a new podcast today. Really growing in my theological knowledge through these guys.
I get up. Get dressed. Better keep my phone nearby. After all, I might need to answer an important email from the other elders. Better check frequently. What’s the temperature outside? Gonna rain today?
I grab my laptop. Need to bid for next month’s flight schedule. While I’m here I really should see what’s new on Gospel Coalition. Some good stuff there. That reminds me, someone posted a great Francis Chan video on YouTube. Better watch it because I don’t think I’ll have time later – gotta take my son for a haircut.
Sitting at Sports Clips next to my son as we wait for our names to be called. Great time to check my email again. Heard there was another shooting. Better check the news. Oh, I almost forgot – need to fix the dishwasher today! I bet there’s a good YouTube video showing how. “Huh? What buddy? Give me just a sec, son, I need to finish this.”
Better grab some milk on the way home. Bummer, long checkout line. Great time to check Facebook. Oh cool – the Hendersons are adopting. I’ll check out their blog. “Just a second, buddy, I’m reading something.” Oh, I forgot to respond to Bill’s text.
Finally home. Need to crash on the couch for a bit and do something mindless. After all, this is my day off. I wonder what new Christian music is on Spotify. Nice song! Think I’ll scroll through my Twitter feed. Russell Moore posted about Trump. Oughtta read it.
Huh… my wife asked for prayer in a post. Wonder what’s going on. How did I miss that? Glad she put it on Facebook…. I don’t think I would have known otherwise.
You get the idea.
I regularly spend much of my time heads-down. Yes, there is value in many of these things. But at what cost?
Twenty-five years ago, my tendency to be heads-down in the cockpit almost cost my life, the life of my student, and the occupants of the other airplane. What will be the cost of my tendency to be heads-down in my electronic devices? What will it cost my family? My relationships with my children? My relationship with Christ? My love of his Word and communion with him in prayer? What will the cumulative hours cost in daily discipleship of my family, neighbors, and church?
What will I miss as my children grow? What regrets will I have when they no longer wake up under the same roof as I? How many heartfelt conversations with my family will I not be a part of? How many tea parties, frisbee throws, and bike rides will I miss with my family? How many silly happenings and would-be memories will I miss? These moments pass and are gone like a vapor.
Proverbs 4:20-27 says,
My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet;
then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.
So, it is time for a violent maneuver. Time to aggressively avoid disaster and regret. Time to live heads-up.
In a future blog post, I’ll share with you some practical and helpful ways I’m doing this. But until then, I’m going to close my laptop, set my smartphone out of reach, and experience heads-up God’s extravagant grace poured out before my eyes through my family.