Dangerous Times

Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 27:12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

My dad, who was both a fixed wing and helicopter pilot in the army, once told me something very interesting about pilots. He told me that the most dangerous time for a pilot, that season of their professional lives when they are most likely to have a flight accident is not during the first few years out of flight school, when they are young and inexperienced. And it isn’t during the last few years of their careers, when they are old and perhaps tired or overconfident. The most dangerous time for a pilot is the years in between those two extremes.

My father explained that new pilots are hyper-vigilant, constantly aware of the weight of the responsibility they bear. Younger pilots tend to go to extremes of caution to make up for their lack of experience. They checklist everything, ask for help and keep their eyes wide open for potential mistakes. On the other hand, older pilots have years of flying under their belt. They know the dangers of their field and have probably known pilots who have had accidents. They know how to solve most problems they will face, know when to ask for help and aren’t too proud to do so. They, like their young counterparts, are also statistically safe.

New pilots are cautious. Old pilots are experienced.

The most dangerous pilots are those in between new and old, who are neither cautious nor experienced. These are the pilots who have been flying long enough for the initial fear to wear off, but not long enough to realize they don’t know everything. Lack of caution plus arrogance equals mistakes. And in an airplane, that can be disastrous.

Married people follow the same pattern. Couples are never more aware of the health of their marriage and willing to learn and change than during that first year. And couples who have survived and thrived after decades of marriage obviously understand what it takes to successfully live with and love another person.

It’s those couples in the in-between years who are most often in danger. They have been together long enough to become  comfortable. Over the years, blind spots and tolerance for unhealthy habits form. The edge of fear and newness wears off. At the same time, they’ve been married long enough to feel like they know more about marriage than they actually do. They might even be afraid to ask for help as it would be a sign of weakness.

It appears to me that the same is true of those in the Christian faith. New believers are so passionate, so teachable and so energetic, dying to make their faith work. They ask questions and listen to counsel. And older believers have collected wisdom and experience that both protects and yields fruit in their lives. The ones most in danger are those who have walked with God long enough to think they know something about walking with God, but not long enough to realize that they don’t know much at all. When crises come, they leave too soon, choose poorly and don’t ask for help until it is too late.

The application? Humility and help! Awareness of the reality of my situation and internal condition. Asking people to look at areas of my life, where they might have clearer vision and offer constructive comments. And endurance. Keeping on, doing wise things and being open to learning more, in both my marriage and my faith. I want to make it to those years where I might actually know something about what I’m doing.