We Never Know Which Flight Will Test Us


It was one of the most dramatic and eye-catching news stories in recent years. The emergency landing of US Air flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, captured the attention of the nation. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s quiet competence and coolness under pressure during the emergency, and then his humility afterward, were an example of heroism for a nation that seems starved for virtuous role models.

Recently Capt. Sullenberger received a coveted award from the National Air and Space Museum. In an interview with Smithsonian magazine (Nov. 2010), he made several fascinating comments. One in particular stood out.

“Out of a 43-year career, my entire life is being judged on the basis of those 3 minutes and 28 seconds. We never know which flight will test us. So it’s incumbent on each of us to be vigilant and avoid complacency. I had gotten to a point late in my career when I thought that test would never happen to me. I was wrong.”

Capt. Sully’s wise words are words any parent must take to heart. Children remember the oddest things; they may not recall the expensive gift you bought them or the elaborate plan you made for a vacation, but they will remember the time you wore a funny hat and capered around the living room on a whim. Likewise, a small omission or an ill-timed word can have a huge impact on a child.

Likewise, a teacher never knows when the moment of greatest impact will come. Teachers often fall into the trap of thinking that years from now our students will remember the subjects we taught them and be carried away in thoughtful reverie about our stirring lectures on the Monroe Doctrine. Instead, they will remember the most unlikely moments and events, times that probably don’t relate to academics at all.

When I think back to the teachers who made the biggest impact on me, I don’t recall a single thing they said in class during a lecture or a lesson. Rather, their impact had to do with their character, their passions, their interest in me, a very annoying teenage boy with bundles of insecurities and bad habits.

“We never know which flight will test us.”

Whether we are a parent, a classroom teacher, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, or just a friend, we never know when our actions and words will define us. Therefore, we must “be vigilant and avoid complacency” at all times. We need to strive to be like Christ at each moment, knowing that every moment is a gift from God that bears the potential of influencing others. We should be reminded that God uses us in other people’s lives, and that He uses us in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.

We may not rise to the dramatic heights of heroism and acclaim that Capt. Sully attained, but we can be assured that others are watching. Which flight will test you? Which flight will test me? Only God knows. I want to be ready when that moment arrives.

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