My dad was an Air Force pilot. He taught me the difference between a pilot and a co-pilot. The pilot calls the shots; the co-pilot is the number two guy (or gal). The pilot is in charge; the co-pilot assists him -- supporting, helping, and providing an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands. The co-pilot's job is important, but he never forgets who's in charge.
Some years ago I noticed that many cars were sporting bumper stickers that read: "God is my co-pilot." I understood what they were trying to say, but they missed the mark.
Then one day I saw a new bumper sticker that read: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats." I laughed out loud and gave the driver a big thumbs-up as I passed him a couple miles later. At last, someone got it right!
This driver understood the error of asserting that "God is my co-pilot." In essence, people were saying: "I drive and God is my helper. I call the shots and God does my bidding." I don't know about you, but my life doesn't work very well when I try to call the shots. When I think I'm the boss and God simply does as I wish, I'm in deep yogurt.
Now, I'm a Type A kind of gal who was raised to take initiative, make things happen, get the ball rolling, and accomplish results. My dad trained his daughter to be an achiever -- he trained me to be a pilot. He did not believe in God, so there was never any mention of a Higher Power who was in charge of the Universe. As far as Dad was concerned, he was in charge of his own universe and I was supposed to grow up and be in charge of mine.
As with a lot of things my dad taught me, I've had to spend many years unlearning that whole "captain of my own destiny" thing. I can't count the number of times I've "captained" myself right into a big mess -- a mess that God rescued me from, only after I finally surrendered my willfulness.
I've learned most of my lessons the hard way -- by making lots of mistakes. As poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, "It's not true that life is one damn thing after another ... it's one damn thing over and over." It would appear that not only am I a slow learner ... I'm also a fast forgetter!
I live in Los Angeles, not far from Hollywood. So I often think of Life as one big epic show being acted out on the world stage. God is the Director -- not me. I am just an actor in this production and my job is to play my part as best I can. I may get to ad lib or improvise a little now and then, but I must remember that I am not running the show. I don't get to write the script for the other actors, nor do I get to tell them how to play their parts. My only job is to perform my role with every bit of talent and skill that I can muster.
On those occasions when I forget who I am and try to slip into the Director's chair, the results are always disastrous. The other actors rebel and refuse to do what I tell them. People get upset ... and I get upset, too. The production never goes how I think it should.
But then God gives me a little nudge and suddenly I remember who I am -- just an actor who let her ego get in the way, forgetting her proper role in the show called Life. Then I climb down out of the Director's chair, humbled and chastened by my utter failure at calling the shots.
God must laugh and shake His head. One of these days you'll learn, sweetheart, He must be thinking. He never scolds or punishes me -- He just lets me learn by my own experience, no matter how many times it takes. (I swear, sometimes my life feels like that movie "Groundhog Day.")
My dad may have trained me to be a pilot, but God is training me as His co-pilot. My life (and the world) runs perfectly ... as long as I remember who's in charge.
BJ Gallagher's new book is "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats" (Hampton Roads)