Practice the position

“Brace! Brace! Brace!” the pilot shouted over the intercom as the plane descended the final feet to the tarmac below. Hurriedly, I put one hand on the back of the seat in front of me, placed the other hand on top of the first, and then braced my forehead on the back of that hand. A small baby, held closely to her mother’s breast, sensed the tension in the air and cried out as her mother attempted to brace herself.

It was a clear morning in Nashville, Tennessee, as I boarded a plane headed for Albany, New York. After the routine safety speech, I buckled myself in, and the plane sped down the runway for take off. As soon as we lifted off the ground, a loud banging noise began to reverberate throughout the cabin. Something was seriously wrong. Instead of lifting into the sky, the plane slowed and began to descend. But we were not headed toward the airport. I looked at the man sitting next to me and stated the obvious: “We are going down.”

An eerie silence settled over the passengers as the realization spread that something dreadful was happening. The banging from the right, rear landing gear continued to echo through our cabin.

Finally, a stewardess stood at the front of the plane in the aisle, holding a large black notebook in one hand and a microphone in the other. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I need 100% of your attention. I am about to make an important announcement, and I need to have your undivided attention. We have a problem with the landing gear. The plane is returning to Nashville and will have to make an emergency landing.” At this point, she certainly had our undivided attention.

“Everyone put your tray table in the upright position and tighten your seatbelt,” she continued. We complied. “Are there any other flight attendants, military personnel, or police officers on board this plane?” A man in the back raised his hand. “Thank you. I will need your assistance.”

For the next 30 minutes we rehearsed every detail of what we would be required to do. Each passenger had to practice the position, the position we would place ourselves in at the moment of the emergency landing. “Place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that hand. Then place your forehead on the back of your hands.” She demonstrated the position and then told each of us to practice it. She walked slowly down the aisle making sure each person in each row was executing the position correctly. It was crucial that each of us knew the position. It was a position of great security.

Now, what I failed to tell you earlier is that I am an adrenaline junkie. I love exciting events. On top of the fact that I was preparing for an emergency landing, I was also in prime real estate for an adrenaline fix. I was in the window seat exit row!

The stewardess came back to our row to explain how each of us would help her during the landing. I became assistant number one. My first responsibility was to check for smoke or flames outside my window. If it was clear, then I would remove the emergency exit door, throw it outside the plane, crawl out on the wing, and assist the other passengers out of the plane. The guy sitting next to me became assistant number two. His role was to follow me out the emergency exit, run fifty yards from the plane, turn back to the plane and begin calling to the other passengers, “Come to me, come to me.” In this way we would be able to gather the passengers together to account for everyone.

By this time the banging from the wheel well had stopped, and we all sat quietly in our seats, pondering what lay before us.

The plane banked and turned back toward the airport. The pilot announced over the intercom that we would make a low, slow approach to the airport. We would fly past the control tower so they could assess the landing gear. When we flew over the airport, it looked like a ghost town. There were no airplanes on the airstrip. Any plane waiting to land had been placed in a holding pattern. Four fire trucks, with lights flashing, waited on the tarmac, spaced at intervals along the runway. We neared the ground and passed the control tower. The pilot then brought the plane back up to a safe altitude. In the crisis of the moment, it seemed like a long time passed before the plane finally made a slow turn back toward the airport.

One minute from landing the pilot shouted over the intercom, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”, and we immediately assumed the position we had practiced earlier. Slowly the plane descended out of the morning sky. Tension filled the air. Bit by bit the plane drew closer to touchdown. Ever so carefully, the plane settled on the asphalt.

Suddenly, I felt the plane begin to fall over on the right side, the side of the faulty landing gear. For one quick moment I thought it was going to be bad. But then…nothing. The pilot gradually applied the brakes, and the plane came to a stop. The landing gear had held.

I later found out that what felt like the landing gear collapsing was actually the plane’s settling down on the faulty landing gear – the pilot had landed the plane on the other two wheels.

Applause spontaneously erupted from the passengers. As excited as I was to land safely, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to exit the plane via the wing. I’m quite sure the other passengers did not share my frustration.

Looking back on the experience reminds me of an area of my spiritual life that I often take for granted: practicing the position. In the procedures for an emergency landing, it was critical that each of us understood how to do the crash position. It was so important that each of us had to practice this position. In life, the crash position looks something like this: find your favorite seat in your house and kneel down in front of it. Now place one hand on the seat in front of you. Place the other hand on top of that and then place your forehead on top of your hands. You are now in the most secure position in the world – the position of prayer.

Prayer should be the cornerstone of your life. It is that time when you personally talk with God. What a privilege! But sadly, most folks neglect this vital practice. We get busy with our lives and forget that God just wants to talk with us. Instead, we should regularly talk with God because we love him. We should be practicing the position.

Consider these verses:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, ESV).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12, ESV).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

This year I pray you will find the joy of talking with God, of spending quality time with him as you pursue your relationship with him. Practice the position when times are good so that when the chaos comes, and it will, you will already know how to do it. Don’t wait until circumstances drive you to your knees. Instead, practice that position daily, learning to have conversations with God about the everyday details in your life. Then you will find that, when the challenges come, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Practice the position.

This article was originally published in “Over the Edge: Personal Stories of Adventure and Faith” by Timothy Mark.