Archived Story

In the midst of tough circumstance, give thanks

Published 9:58am Friday, January 24, 2014

By the Rev. Andrea Myers
Grace Lutheran Church

Air travel at this time of the year isn’t always fun. A snow storm in one part of the country can disrupt the entire system. One canceled flight impacts another like falling dominos. It can take several days for everything to get untangled, and for stranded passengers to finally arrive home. It’s a true test of patience and good will.

Of course, my husband and I knew all of this when we decided to fly to the New York City area for a wedding on Jan. 4. We even planned to arrive a day early, just in case. A blizzard closed the Newark airport on Jan. 2 and cancelled our original “let’s plan ahead” flight. Thus began a weekend-long travel adventure reminiscent of the 1987 movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Our new flight was diverted to Washington-Dulles, instead of New York, and the airline was about to fly us back to Chicago to try the whole thing again the next day. At that point, we knew we were only a four-hour car ride from our destination. So, we jumped ship, stayed with friends for the night and drove a rental car to the wedding rehearsal on Friday. The plan worked well and we enjoyed a lovely wedding!

Our travel adventures had just begun, however. An ice storm arrived on Sunday and impacted many airports along the East Coast. JFK airport was briefly closed when a plane skidded down the runway. Our return flight that evening was delayed, and then eventually canceled. By that time the system was so backlogged and broken that there were no other available flights home until Tuesday.

In the midst of all of this, I coped with my own sense of helplessness by people-watching. Everyone was frustrated, of course. Some people coped with that frustration better than others. Happiest were the ones who had magazines, friends and well-charged phones to help them pass the time in the airport. Happiest were the ones who asked for help from the airline employees while understanding that the options available were limited.

Not everyone was happy, however. For them, the primary struggle was to accept that this situation was beyond their control. I heard a passenger yelling at the gate agent and demanding more specifics about when a flight would depart. When the gate agent repeated – calmly but firmly – that they wouldn’t know anything further until the fog lifted, the passenger raised her voice once again, “That’s not acceptable!”

There was nobody to blame. No one could hold the pilots responsible for the blizzard or blame the gate agent for the fog. The only thing we could do was to accept – as gracefully as possible – an inconvenience brought by Mother Nature and the whims of January weather.

Perhaps it’s helpful, every now and then, to be reminded that we don’t get to control everything around us. We are only human, after all. We can control many things, but not everything. We have limits.

As frustrating as it can be to confront this reality of our limitation, it’s also an opportunity. It helped, when we looked around at all the other passengers in the airport and recognized that we were not alone in this experience. It helped to share our story with friends outside the airport, who offered us prayers and places to stay and the help of their travel agent. It helped when we let go of what we couldn’t control and went with the flow.

These same helps are available when we face other struggles and things beyond our control, like illness or depression or a job loss. We can look around usand recognize that we’re not alone. We can share our stories and receive the support and advice of others. And, more than anything, we can let go of the things we will never be able to control.

I think this is what the way of life encouraged by the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thesseolonians 5:16-18). We may not give thanks for the trials that come to us, but in the midst of those troubles we can give thanks for our community, for the help of others and for the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. For he has conquered that which we could never control – sin and death – and given us freedom and eternal life. Whatever delays or diversions we experience for now, we can live in confidence during the journey.