By Bob Simpson, BCM/D Associate Executive Director, BaptistLIFE Editor
Captain Chesley B. (Sully) Sullenberger and I have something in common. He is the same age as I am. After that, the comparison denigrates quickly. So much has been written about Sully’s cool, calm demeanor in the face of certain disaster. You will recall that he was the pilot of the ill-fated U.S. Airways flight 1549 that hit a flock of birds shortly after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia airport on Jan. 15, 2009. Sully is credited with saving the lives of all 155 souls on board that plane. It was the first time in 50 years of commercial jet flight that the captain of a major aircraft executed one of the most technically challenging maneuvers, landing a jetliner on water without any fatalities.
How did he do it? He did it with incredible, laser-like focus. Somehow he was able to overcome the negative thinking that distractions always engender. There were so many things that could have distracted him. For example, he could have been distracted by the fact that he had no thrust from his silent engines. Sully was 3,200 feet in the air, without power, quickly falling to Earth. That would have freaked out most of us right from the outset.
He could have been distracted by how to keep the nose of the plane lowered so the plane would glide and not drop quickly.
He could have been distracted by all the choices of where he might possibly be able to put the plane down. They included going back to LaGuardia or trying to get to an alternative airport in the New York metropolitan area.
He could have been distracted by what he knew to be the fact that no pilot in modern jet aviation had ever pulled off a successful water landing.
He could have been distracted by how to align the plane with the river so as not to hit the George Washington Bridge.
He could have been distracted by how to calculate the projected glide path and then set the plane on water at just the right angle so the nose was up and neither of the wings tipped. If the nose or a wingtip hit the water as he approached, the plane could flip, spin out, or snap in two.
He could have been distracted by the location of the boats in the Hudson River. He knew he would have to pick a spot on the river that would give his passengers and crew the best advantage to be rescued.
There were these distractions and many more. But, Captain Sullenberger’s focus never wavered. He knew what he had to do. He had trained his entire career for this kind of eventuality. He did not let any distraction dissuade him from the main thing.
This reminds me of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Scripture says “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” If there ever was a person who embodied the essence of focus, it was Jesus. Even at the age of 12, he told his parents, “I must be about my Father’s business.”
Focus is always the main issue. Most of us are too easily distracted. Even churches can be distracted doing good things instead of the main thing. Our main focus is, and must always be, to do what our Lord has commanded us to do. His last words to us before he left the planet were to “go and make disciples of all nations.” That is all we need to stay focused on. We need to simply ask, “What now?” “What next?” and “What not?”
It’s the “What not?” part that is the most critical to developing focus. We need to jettison anything that distracts us. We need to free up more bandwidth to be able to move forward and do it with maximum focus. Jesus (and Sully) can teach us a lot about how to focus!