Also known as: On holding patterns
Title credit: Audrey Assad’s “Even the Winter”
What if we find ourselves beneath the snow?
Our warmest words all frozen in our throats
and all we feel is left out in the cold,
You and I?
I was listening to a podcast from a friend a few months ago, and there was a part there where they discussed holding patterns. I’ve heard of holding patterns back in college and I thought it was really just a term coined for some kind of spiritual down time or struggle. I was surprised to know that it was an actual technical term related to aviation. From Wikipedia:
The primary use of a holding pattern is delaying aircraft that have arrived at their destination but cannot land yet because of traffic congestion, poor weather, or runway unavailability (for instance, during snow removal). Several aircraft may fly the same holding pattern at the same time, separated vertically by 1,000 feet or more.
So it turns out, a holding pattern is what the planes follow when we are at your destination, but can’t land just yet because there’s something down there. So your plane goes around. And around. And around. And you’re just very, very antsy and you want to yell at the pilot to just land the freaking plane so you can disembark and go home and rest. Or land so you can go to your next flight.
Just land it, darn it.
But it’s not like we can do anything about it, right?
The other Holding Pattern
What if the days grow short and lose their light?
What if the coals burn black and the embers die?
and we can’t find each other in the night?
You and I
I had to dig through a couple of my old blog sites to find that post about holding patterns that I got from an email. That other holding pattern that I know is this:
Many times God will allow a painful situation or a painful circumstance in our life to “swallow us up.” This season in our spiritual growth is a holding pattern. We can’t move to the left or the right. All we can do is sit, like Jonah sat in the belly of that great fish, so God can have our undivided attention and speak to us. God put Jonah in a holding pattern because He needed to speak to his heart. Jonah was all alone. There were no friends to call, no colleagues to drop by, no books to read, no food to eat, no interference, and no interruptions. He had plenty of time to sit, think, meditate, and pray.
When we’re deep down in the midst of a difficult situation, God can talk to us. When He has our undivided attention, He can show us things about ourselves that we might not otherwise have seen.
It’s almost the same as the other holding pattern but also not quite. I mean, whales do not swallow the plane to keep it still, right? But in both holding patterns, there’s a similar thing: you’re stuck wherever you are, until you land, or the whale decides to let you out.
What do you do then?
Holding pattern or Limbo?
What if the ice we tread is just too thin?
What if we can’t escape the squall we’re in?
What if our hearts of stone are permanent?
You and I
“You’re in limbo.”
I dislike that word. Hate is too much of a big word, so let’s settle for dislike. Limbo is such a negative word, don’t you think? It’s a place where no one really wants to be. When a friend told me that I’m there (or at least, our conversation led to me admitting that), I wanted to deny it. I don’t want to be in limbo because I don’t know how to get out of limbo. Normally, getting out of limbo means doing something scary, or stupid, or both. And I didn’t think I had the capacity to do both. Not now.
So what’s the big difference between limbos and holding patterns?
I don’t know, really. I prefer holding patterns because I’d like to believe that holding patterns have some kind of higher purpose, while limbo is really just that place where people get stuck in because of a rut, or because of stupidity. But I think the scary part of limbo and holding patterns is the idea that we may never get out of it. Being caught in that stage, being stuck is one of the things that I am quite scared of. No one wants to get stuck.
Protection, not punishment
Earlier this week, I wondered if I’m really ready for some things and I’m just not seizing the moment, or if I’m really not ready and I’m just being impatient. I can’t distinguish it, because there are days when I pray and I tell God: Lord, I’m ready for this! You can give me this now! I can do this, I promise! I am ready, I can give my all for this!
But then I imagine God laughing and shaking his head, pushing me back to my seat gently, and saying: Not quite. Not yet. Sit tight, I’m going for another round. I’ll tell you when we’re going to land. And I pout. Because when I get to those moments, I feel like God is saying no, and I feel like I’m being rejected. Like I deserve to be where I am. Like I don’t deserve to get what I want because I’m bad.
But in truth, I think He’s just saying, Wait.
Sometimes I hate really dislike it when God tells me that.
Despite all my declarations of readiness, despite my need to land now now now, if God thinks I’m not ready for it, it probably means its true. It’s easy to say that I’m ready, and readiness is just a state of mind and all you need to do is jump. But what if jumping is an unwise decision? Like, if you’re on a plane and you’re going around this holding pattern because it’s not safe to land yet, would you just try to jump out because you’ve been ready to land ages ago? Of course not. So maybe even if I think I’m ready but the things I am ready for aren’t happening yet…maybe it’s because I’m really not ready at all.
I remember something about how God’s will for us is too big that if we force it on ourselves too fast without being truly ready, we will end up breaking our hearts (and possibly hurting other people, too). I think God doesn’t want us to break our own hearts. I think if there’s anyone who can break our hearts with care, it’s God. Because He knows what’s deep inside us, and the truth is He can fix us better than we can fix ourselves. It’s not that God refuses to give the things I asked for. He just doesn’t give it all immediately because He knows infinitely more than I do.
See, the real point of holding patterns is really, the passengers’ protection. The pilot won’t go around and around if there’s no point, really. If the pilot forced the plane to land despite the imperfect conditions, then it would probably just cause an accident. And no one wants that, right? Same with life’s holding patterns, there is a purpose behind it. I remember that one line from the podcast that hit me straight to the heart about holding patterns: God doesn’t put you in a holding pattern to punish you, but to protect you. We may not understand yet, but I have hope that someday, we will. Someday, I will understand the purpose of this holding pattern. I just have to trust that this is for my good, even if sometimes I don’t feel it.
And then when God finally decides that it’s time to land…then won’t it be the most exciting thing in the world?
What if the spring comes soon
and we’re surprised?
What if the seasons help us realize,
some things are only proven over time?
You know. :)