focus

Pilot

Croagh-Patrick.jpg

I arise today...
Through God’s strength to pilot me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Irv: You see Sanka, the driver has to work harder than anyone. He's the first to show up, and the last to leave. When his buddies are all out drinking beer, he's up in his room studying pictures of turns. You see, a driver must remain focused one hundred percent at all times. Not only is he responsible for knowing every inch of every course he races, he's also responsible for the lives of the other men in the sled. Now do you want that responsibility?

Sanka Coffie: I say we make Derice the driver.

Irv: So do I, Sanka. So do I.

— Irv Blitzer (John Candy) and Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug), Cool Runnings

A pilot steers the ship. He or she is essentially “the driver”. In an age where nearly everyone drives a car and even aircraft fly on “automatic pilot”, we can easily take the pilot’s role for granted. After all, steering isn’t that hard. We do it every day. And just like a plane, sometimes we end up running on auto-pilot. Have you ever had that moment when you pull into the driveway at home and realize you don’t even remember making the last several turns? It’s easy to zone out somewhere along the all too familiar route.

We have the same problem when we try to steer, drive, or pilot our lives. We make a thousand choices a day in our familiar routines without a second thought. We react to input and circumstances almost involuntarily rather than pausing to intentionally consider our response.

The strength of a pilot is a mental strength, the strength of a disciplined and focused mind. Such single-minded focus does not come naturally in a world that turns our attention from one thing to the next at a pace that would give anyone whiplash. As Sanka learned in the movie, “Cool Runnings”, it is one thing to steer a push cart down a dirt hill, but it is entirely something else to steer a metal sled barreling through gut wrenching turns down an icy track.

Life is more like a bobsled track than a wide open downhill slope. We must constantly stay alert. The slightest missed turn can cause unintentional harm to ourselves and those riding closest to us in the sled. The ability to make such split second decisions does not come in the moment. It comes from all of those hours of training and study. Over time, we learn to respond with grace and truth as naturally as we navigate the familiar roads to our homes.

I know a bobsled driver is not exactly what the writer had in mind when he talks of a pilot, but there is one more parallel worth exploring. Unlike flying with an airline pilot, the “passengers” in a bobsled are not passive. They do not sit back sipping on sodas and eating pretzels while the driver or “pilot” does all the work. They must stay low and lean in with the pilot through every curve. Each person in the sled must be in sync with the drivers every move.

Likewise, those on an ancient sailing ship cannot sit back and wait until the pilot steers them safely into port. There is much work to be done. There are sails to be hoisted, ropes to be tied, decks to be cleaned, and a hundred other responsibilities which I know nothing about. The pilot may have the strength and focus to keep the ship on course, but the pilot doesn’t work alone. We must train and discipline ourselves with the strength and focus to follow the pilot’s lead.

To paraphrase Sanka , “I say we make God the driver.”

Reflections:

1. In what ways do you try to pilot your own life? How do you feel about the results?

2. What fears prevent you from giving God complete control of the wheel?

3. What habits or disciplines might God be calling you to strengthen in order to increase your focus and intentional response to the pilot’s every move?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s might to uphold me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer