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Navigator author Jerry White offers practical suggestions for focusing on the purpose God has for each of us. He deals with real-life issues--grief, aging, marriage, stress, parenting,tragedy--and presents welcome solutions to surviving the chaotic storm ...
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Navigator author Jerry White offers practical suggestions for focusing on the purpose God has for each of us. He deals with real-life issues--grief, aging, marriage, stress, parenting,tragedy--and presents welcome solutions to surviving the chaotic storm swirling around us and inside us.
A Dangerous Introspection
T minus 2 hours and counting
The majestic Atlas missile sat on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral with the early afternoon sun glinting off its shiny surface. The final fueling of the super-cold liquid oxygen was beginning. The shiny surface soon became crusted with frost as the frigid fuel met the Florida humidity.
In Central Control I sat at a console monitoring the progress of the many elements of the Atlantic Missile Range as they geared up to track and analyze the flight of this new rocket. It was a heady job for a twenty-three-year-old first lieutenant in the Air Force—especially for one who came from a very simple, lower-middle-class home. Having spent my first nine years in a small farm town—Garden City, Iowa, with a population of one hundred people—never in my wildest dreams had I envisioned being a mission controller in America's burgeoning space program.
T minus 1 hour and 38 minutes and counting
Tracking planes lifted off the runway at Ascension Island to record the reentry and splash down of the nose cone. Ships already on station waited to record the vital last minutes of the flight.
T minus 1 hour and 26 minutes—and holding
A problem developed with the preliminary checks of the internal guidance system. Engineers worked frantically to fix it. Thirty minutes went by. Still no resolution. Reports came in from the tracking aircraft on their available loiter time, giving their fuel levels. Soon they would have to return to their station to refuel.
T minus 1 hour and 26 minutes and counting!
The problem was finally fixed. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Each radar station along the Grand Bahama Islands down the range from Cape Canaveral reported their status. Grand Bahama Island experienced difficulties with their tracking radar. They assured me it would be ready by launch time.
T minus 43 minutes—and holding
A late-afternoon thunderstorm moved through. The winds were too high for launch. Topping off the fuel was delayed. Other tests were now being pushed later into the night. I received calls from the test directors. How quickly could we "turn around" after the launch? Why couldn't we do it faster?
The storm moved through. After a twenty-eight-minute hold, the count resumed. The sun slipped lower on the horizon.
T minus 30 minutes and counting
The fuel was topped off. The gantry began its slow retraction. Range safety officers checked all their systems. Charts showing the boundaries of safe flight were mounted. All tracking stations showed green. All aircraft and ships were in place.
T minus 10 minutes and holding
This was a "planned" hold for final checks. All reported okay. Count resumed.
Five, four, three, two, one. Ignition!
Engines ignited and thousands of gallons of water poured onto the concrete pad to keep it from being destroyed by the intense flame. The steam billowed around the base of the missile as it came to full power, straining against the hold-down clamps. Then, as the clamps released, the mighty Atlas slowly lifted into the air like a broom being balanced on a giant's finger. As it gained speed, it tilted southeastward toward its target.
In the range safety area several officers tracked the flight. At T plus 70 seconds, the missile veered to the south. Tracking telescopes saw a faulty flame in one of the small nozzles on the side of the great Atlas. The guidance system desperately tried to adjust and correct the path. Sweat beaded on the brow of the senior range safety officer. The pens on the tracking board showed the missile nearing the "destruct" boundary. The safety officer lifted the red cap of the destruct switch. At T plus 2 minutes the missile path intersected the destruct line. He flicked the switch and an explosive charge ripped the fuel tanks open. The night filled with a giant explosion as the missile burned and tumbled harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean.
At Central Control we all sensed the disappointment—yet were also elated by the challenge of the future. All the data would be analyzed. Another test would be held. Success would come.
Meanwhile, the planes returned to station. Other tests began—on into the night. The work never stopped.
As I wrapped up my duties and got into the car for the thirty-minute drive home to Patrick Air Force Base, it was already 8:00 P.M. I walked in the house where Mary waited with dinner, having seen the explosion from our front yard. Our eighteen-month-old son, Stephen, was already in bed. He had been sleeping that morning when I left for work.
Together we sensed both the excitement of the times and our involvement as small players in this new frontier. Yet we also experienced a growing frustration in our lives and marriage. If it had just been work, that would have been understandable. But we realized the frustration went beyond work. It was because of our chaotic lifestyle.
We were involved in so many things. Mary worked for Pan American Airways to bring in some extra money that we erroneously thought we needed. We taught classes in the Base Chapel and led the chapel youth program. I sang in a choral society. I was part of a public speaking team for the Air Force Missile Test Center. I played sports. We hosted groups in our home. Our lifestyle was hectic, at best. I felt driven to activity and to achievement. The job was exciting. Life was exciting. There was so much to do. But Mary began to have a growing anger and frustration. She felt neglected. I gave little help in the home. I was oblivious to what was happening in our marriage and family.
Near the end of these two years, I became ill with exhaustion at the ripe old age of twenty-four! Then our second child, Katherine, was born just as astronaut John Glenn and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were driving by the front of the hospital after Glenn's historic first orbital flight. The pressures increased.
The space program excitement was at a fever pitch. A moon flight was next. But personally, Mary and I were ready to hit the panic button. It seemed that the excitement and importance of the task justified my hectic lifestyle. But that was a poor excuse. We felt trapped—on a treadmill from which we could not escape.
We vowed to make drastic adjustments in how we were living. But it was a long process to escape the drug of hyperactivity, of chaos.
* * *
Many of us know our lives are too busy, too occupied with activity, too frantic in pace. The pursuits that fill our time are not bad. They are worthwhile, good activities. They help people. They actually give us a sense of contribution and even a sense of fulfillment.
Our problem is one of chaos. Chaos is "a state in which chance is supreme; a state of utter confusion. This implies a wanting in order, sequence, organization, or predictable operation, causing things to be completely confused or disordered."
Though we may not be in "utter confusion," we still experience chaos. However, many of us find it difficult to admit that we feel like this. Varying degrees of chaos exist in our lives. Some of us actually enjoy the feeling. We consider the activity as a sign of accomplishment.
In marriage one partner can be perfectly content with a high degree of activity while the other is paralyzed by it. We often encountered this in our marriage. I have a much greater tolerance—even enjoyment—of chaos than Mary has. In those early days, I was exhilarated. Mary was exhausted. I was energized. Mary was desperate. And that difference caused conflict between us.
In time, even those who are most tolerant of chaos begin to lose perspective, energy, and focus. We tire of the unpredictability and disorder. We long for tranquility and quietness. But life goes on with little change.
Then another issue begins to surface. Time. Not the use of time, but how much time is left in our lives. All of us come to a point when the thought strikes us, There is not much time left. Life is passing me by.
This can happen at any age. Although younger people are less likely to feel this desperation, they still sense panic at failing to reach the dreams they set out to fulfill. There is a hurry to do and to accomplish, increasing further the feeling of chaos, especially when we realize we cannot control our future in a rapidly changing world.
As we age, the feelings grow more acute:
* Have I achieved something?
* Did I do right by my family?
* Was it all worthwhile?
* Why don't I feel a sense of peace and accomplishment?
The words on an old clock in Winchester Cathedral express the feelings of many:
When as a child I laughed and wept, Time crept.
When as a youth I waxed more bold, Time strolled.
When I became a full-grown man, Time ran.
When older still I daily grew, Time flew.
Soon I shall find, in passing on, Time gone.
Oh Christ! wilt Thou have saved me then?
Our problem goes deeper. It is the sense that time was not used well. We experience the empty feeling of having wasted our life energy. We cannot change the past. It is gone, leaving only memories and a legacy for the present.
The great inventor Charles Kettering once wisely commented, "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." We can change only our direction for the future. The past teaches us, but it must not determine our future. Current decisions determine our future. This goes far beyond a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" philosophy. It is a conviction that God will bless good decisions that lead to deep inner fulfillment.
But here we encounter a major problem. Most of us are so busy attempting to keep life together that we cannot stop and think about where we are going. And if we did, would we like what we see?
We go, and keep on going,
Until the object of the game,
Seems to be
To go and keep on going.
We do, and keep on doing,
Until we do
Without knowing—without feeling.
Is there no time to stop and reflect?
Is there no time to stop?
Is there no time?
If we stopped, would we keep on going?
If we reflected, would we keep doing
What we do?
For what we have done
And where we have gone
Is dissolved into oblivion
Or strung on the meaningless chain
Of half-remembered this and that
If there is no reflection.
In all our doing have we done anything?
In all our going have we been anywhere?
Being an activist with what many would call a driven personality, I have needed to stop and regroup several times in my life. No matter how much trimming I do at one point in time, I soon find myself reverting to old habits, old ways of thinking, and an increased pace. I need to do a major review of my life and pace about every five years—with an annual checkup and tune up.
When I do not do this, what happens? My family suffers. They pay the price for my unexamined life. This is especially true for our children. They have no choice. They cannot escape. They are "stuck" with those of us who live lives that are too busy. The years pass so quickly. How I wish I could buy back some of those years when my children were small and I chose to be too busy.
This chaotic malady doesn't affect only high-flying executives or people in demanding professional careers. Those with forty-hour weeks and less-pressured jobs can fill their lives with recreation, hobbies, and other activities that keep them incredibly busy. Wives (both "stay-at-home" and "go-out-to-work" wives) create for themselves the same lifestyle panic as they spend hours transporting their children to sports, engaging in their social events, and trying to meet the incredible expectations of everyone around them.
Single mothers and fathers find themselves in an even more intensive activity cycle as they try to balance their work, family, social life (if they have time for one), and financial demands. The world does not stop to wait for them.
Our Chaotic Lifestyles
I rarely talk with anyone who is not too busy. With the possible exception of the elderly, everyone has more to do than time in which to do it. In most cases, we choose this busy life. We are not forced into it, except by the expectation of our peers and the society in which we live. We want to enrich our children's lives so we schedule soccer, basketball, music lessons, social activities, church activities, home schooling, parties. Then we include the invasion of television, electronic games, the Internet, and CDs. They all add to our already complicated schedules and they come with good intent. We are trying to help our children, not harm them. Yet, almost as a drug-addicted mother impacts her newborn, we infect our children with a diet of activities, hurry, and packed schedules. Are we making their lives more chaotic than they need to be?
In many families both husband and wife work. Even if the jobs are not the demanding sixty-hour-a-week kind, the pressures of the schedule are immense and intense. Many work out of necessity to provide private school tuitions, college educations, a house. I would not presume to judge those who choose to be a two-income family or to have a demanding career path, but I do want to emphasize the stress and pressure these place on a family. It simply adds to the chaos.
Church involvement, other spiritual activities, or community responsibilities add to an already demanding schedule. This explains why people are slow to volunteer for church and community needs.
The Chaos of the Inner Life
Chaos comes not only from the external influences of technology and schedules, but also from what takes place inside our minds and hearts. We wrestle with issues like restlessness, dissatisfaction, failure, spiritual emptiness, worry, and anxiety.
Other areas of the inner life, such as anger, depression, excessive ambition, or jealousy build the chaotic storm within us. At times they make the external chaos seem minor.
The chapters that follow deal with these ideas in more detail. So get a cup of your favorite drink, relax, and let yourself think about the issues of your own life direction. Perhaps you should fasten your seat belt too, because I predict there will be some rough roads as you allow yourself to think realistically about some of the deeper issues of your life—and the chaos that surrounds you. If you feel no chaos, you can close this book now. You have arrived. Or have you?
Excerpted from MAKING PEACE WITH REALITY by Jerry White. Copyright © 2002 by Jerry E. White. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.