Flying Lesson

It took a young traveling companion to help me with my baggage

The two-hour flight to Dallas was minutes from take-off as I settled into my aisle seat—7-B—and began to pray for whoever might sit in 7-A.

Not for his or her soul, though that would have been the right and holy thing to do. No, I was praying about this person's size. Hoping the stranger would be petite and/or patient, someone who wouldn't feel miserable squished next to an abundantly blessed woman. In a roomy 737 jet, no problem; in a tiny commuter plane with every seat sold, big problem. Please, Lord. Someone kind. And small.

As I watched the passengers file past, I mentally rehearsed my opening patter: They keep making these planes smaller, don't they? or, Sure wish my hips could fit in the overhead compartment! Anything to put him or her at ease and avoid an embarrassing scene. Moments later, a slender, smiling boy appeared by my seat. "I'm 7-A."

"So you are!" I crowed. Thank you, Lord. He had blond hair, round eyeglasses, and the pink cheeks of late childhood. I pegged him at nine or ten, maybe even a mature age eight.

He climbed into his seat, barely taking up half of it, and announced, "I like this plane. It's my size." He leaned toward me and added in a stage whisper, "It makes me feel bigger."

Bless his heart. I asked his name, wondering what it must be like to travel alone at such a young age, then gently patted his arm. "I'm here if you need anything."

After he drifted off to sleep, I resisted the maternal urge to smooth back the hair that fell across his brow. So young, so vulnerable.

When the engines grew louder, signaling our descent, my young neighbor woke with a yawn, glanced at his watch, and grinned. "Whadya know? My birthday's next week."

I beamed at him, picturing the big party his parents would throw. "A birthday, is it?"

"Yeah. I'll be 15."

My smile froze in place. It couldn't be! Not this small boy, no taller than a third-grader.

Think of the snide comments his peers must throw at him! Not to mention the many clueless strangers—such as me—who treat him as though he's a half-grown child instead of a full-fledged teenager.

"Happy birthday," I murmured, my heart breaking. What must it be like to be smaller than people expect?

The answer came from deep inside: It's like being larger than people expect.

Oh, Lord. Of course.

I looked down and fumbled with my seat belt, suddenly feeling exposed. Just as this self-conscious teen kept his defense tactics at the ready—It's my size and My birthday's next week—I had my verbal arsenal loaded as well, deflecting imagined criticism by beating people to the punch—They keep making these planes smaller, don't they?

No, Liz. They don't.

The time had come to see my self-effacing banter for what it was: fear of rejection.

You won't like me. You won't approve. You'll say something unkind.

The apostle Paul once asked, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?" (). I was trying to please men, all right. Or spare myself their displeasure. God, sorry to say, hadn't entered into the equation at all.

I needed to pray, not for my own comfort, but for the opportunity to comfort another. To pray not to be loved, but for a chance to demonstrate Christ's love to a stranger. To be more other-conscious and less self-conscious. To seek God's approval alone.

Resolving to do better on the next leg of my trip, I looked up and caught the small teenager watching me with a curious gaze.

"You okay, ma'am?" he asked as the wheels touched the runway.

"More than okay." I grinned. "Thanks to you."

Liz Curtis Higgs, author of more than 20 books, including her most recent,The Girl's Still Got It(WaterBrook Press), lives with her family in Kentucky.


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