Yesterday afternoon, after several months of study, I passed the FAA instrument rating knowledge test! Now that this is out of the way, I can focus mainly on accruing the flight experience required to take my check ride and oral test. For those unfamiliar with what an instrument rating is: it allows a pilot to fly solely by reference to the flight instruments when the weather is not suitable for flying under visual flight rules (VFR). With an instrument rating, a pilot can legally fly through clouds and in conditions where low visibility could cause a VFR-only pilot to become lost and disoriented, as well as conduct certain other operations where an instrument rating is required.
There are several important aspects to becoming a safe and proficient (not just legal) instrument pilot. An instrument-rated pilot must manage a higher workload than a VFR pilot: maintaining aircraft control and situational awareness while following complex procedures, tuning radios and avionics, communicating with air traffic control, navigating, and managing distractions. But perhaps the most basic skill is learning to interpret and trust the flight instruments. Because an airplane maneuvers in a three-dimensional environment (unlike a car, which is stuck in two dimensions), the forces induced can play all kinds of tricks on our bodies when we can't see the ground or other visual references. For example, a steady coordinated turn is indistinguishable from level flight, as far as our vestibular system is concerned. The only way to know the true attitude of the airplane is to ignore what your body is telling you and completely trust the flight instruments. This takes practice and does not come naturally!
Of course there are some spiritual parallels here. As we navigate life, there are countless voices influencing us, from within and from without. If we start listening to every voice that comes our way, we can easily become disoriented—much like the pilot who finds himself in a "graveyard spiral" through the clouds, sensing that something is wrong, but unable to escape because he can't interpret the instruments in front of him. In that situation, the only hope is to draw on his training, ignore everything he is feeling, and focus on the six instruments in front of him. He must then take decisive action, trusting completely that these instruments are telling the truth despite every sensation telling him otherwise.
We live in a culture of subjective, feelings-driven truth. The problem is that feelings are unpredictable and can change at any time. And what happens when my subjective opinions and beliefs conflict with those of another person? Many words have been penned on these topics, and I don't intend to elaborate here. But as I train for my instrument rating, I can't help but think about the parallels to life, particularly as a disciple of Christ. I need to ask myself: am I training myself to know the voice of Jesus by reading and meditating on His words revealed through Scripture? Do I consistently meet with Him in prayer? My only hope if I find myself becoming disoriented and distracted is to focus on the Author of Truth. This is only possible if I have trained myself to hear and listen to His voice, lay aside the countless distractions, and trust completely in Him.
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