Basic Training for the Soul


What do you do in a crisis?

I read this week about a spiritual director who was taking flying lessons. The man asked the instructor why they used flight simulators so much. He replied, “In the moment of crisis, you will not rise to the occasion, you will default to your training.”

The temptation is to live life on the fly. How will I respond to a crisis? How do I know till I get there? Cross that bridge when we come to it. I often sit with people who have come to that bridge and it’s washed out. Unless you have prepared for just this moment, you are paralyzed just when you need to act.

Pilots know that you can’t wing it. You have to prepare for the unexpected. The military knows this perhaps best of all. Basic training is meant to so ingrain certain responses that when you meet a life or death situation you will not have to think–because of course with adrenaline and cortisol flooding your bloodstream, thinking is the one thing you can’t do.

In 1998 the church I was leading burned down, along with the parish hall and the day school. In that moment of crisis we did a lot of things right, but we got some important things wrong, mostly communication. We needed to fall back on a disaster plan—even a half-way rehearsed one—so that with smoke and tears in our eyes we knew exactly what to do.

This is what a spiritual life does for us. It trains our bodies and minds for the time when the rug gets pulled out, everything spins and we are falling. In that moment, we can still breathe, still find hope, still have our wits about us if we know instinctively who to trust and how to fall…upward. That can happen if we have spent just a little time each day practicing.

Every day we face standard-issue crises; things fall apart, we lose control, our plans blow up. God can use those everyday moments to hone and shape our lives, helping us to develop a soft and open heart, a supple mind, a flexible outlook, a sense of trust. But only if we take time to be in the Presence. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). That daily practice of being awake and present to our lives is like basic training, like sitting in a flight simulator, so that when the big one hits, we’re ready. The adrenaline and cortisol are still flowing, but so is love and surrender.

What will you do in a crisis? The answer is, whatever you are training to do today.

6 Responses to Basic Training for the Soul
  1. Elizabeth Anderson
    July 5, 2018 | 9:35 am

    Good word today. Amen to what you wrote. Spiritual disciplines are something to work on so when the going gets tough and we don’t have the strength we have a reserve. Gordon MacDonald calls is “building below the water line.” He tells the story of someone who built a beautiful well-appointed sailing yacht. On the day of the grand launch a small squall came up and the boat keeled over and sank. The builder had put all his efforts into the visible beauty of the boat and its gracious interior and almost none into what was invisible below the water line, the hull and keel that would hold the boat upright in a storm. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Michael
    July 5, 2018 | 3:31 pm

    Thanks David. Needed this this morning and I’ll be sharing it with my friends. Another gem.

    Hope is no strategy.


    July 5, 2018 | 3:48 pm

    I have been comforted by “Be Still and know that I am GOD” said to me in a loud voice. It quieted me, and I will never forget this!


  4. Johnna
    July 5, 2018 | 4:22 pm

    Thanks, David. I remember that fire, and the grace that grounded the congregation through the whole process of grief and reconstruction. Coming to center for me is as much an experience of solid ground as it is of stillness – both so necessary for discerning the gracious presence of God on any given day. Daily spiritual practice makes it much more difficult for me to fool myself into thinking that my will and understanding are sufficient unto themselves.

  5. Frank Johnson
    July 6, 2018 | 5:06 pm

    What to do in a crisis? Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you.

  6. Linda Smith
    July 9, 2018 | 9:44 pm

    Being loved and loving back with major patience with my love for god has helped me a great deal through my own journey.

    Thank you David for your constant love and belief.😘

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