When We Fear The Unknown - The Warrior's Journey®

When We Fear The Unknown

Author: David Causey, USA (Ret.)

iraq. Photo by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC By 2.0

The unknown. What is it?

Faith and the Unknown

Cpl. Jose Pacheco, a soldier with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, practices rappelling techniques during the basic-mobility portion of Mountain Exercise 08-11 at the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California’s Toiyabe National Forest, Sept. 22. Pacheco and his fellow soldiers will use the technical skills they learn during basic-mobility to gain a tactical advantage over their adversaries during the subsequent force-on-force exercise.

It is an un-scalable mountain, an unbearable burden, an impregnable barrier. The unknown is something we approach with great anxiety and apprehension. We inch toward it, like a man shuffling forward in the dark, fearful of stubbing his toe, of falling headlong into a ditch, or stepping off a cliff.

Actually, experience teaches us differently. The unknown – the thing we cringe before – rarely meets our fearful expectations. Consider the experience of the unknown in one man’s life – fighter ace and test pilot, Captain Chuck Yeager.

The Sound Barrier

Chuck Yeager had been recruited in 1947 to test the experimental rocket plane, the Bell X-1.  His hope was to push it beyond the sound barrier (Mach 1 or 760 miles per hour at sea level). Although designed to fly twice the speed of sound, the Bell engineers and pilots who had flown the X-1 demanded extreme caution in Yeager’s X-1 tests – and with reason.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the Viper East Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., creates a "cone" of condensation Aug. 21, 2010, as he nears Mach 1 during a flyby at an open house at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wis. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Oliva)

Many other pilots who approached the speed of sound in conventional aircraft usually paid a severe price. They all experienced extreme buffeting and turbulence and were forced to slow their aircraft down. Scientists feared that, as a plane flew faster, the air to its front would be compressed so much so that the aircraft’s controls would freeze and its wings would rip off. Early in 1947 Geoffrey DeHaviland died when his jet, the Swallow, disintegrated as he approached supersonic flight. This tragedy solidified the idea of a real “sound barrier,” an impregnable wall in the sky.

So in his X-1 test flights Chuck Yeager was only allowed to inch forward – increasing his speed by a mere two hundredths of a Mach from one flight to the next. Over a period of months his flight speed creeped forward from Mach 0.82 to Mach 0.84 to Mach 0.86 – closer and closer to the unknown, toward the sound barrier.

Then came the day – October 14, 1947. Yeager reached Mach 0.92. Then he pushed the X-1 faster, to Mach 0.96, and noticed something. After some initial buffeting, at around Mach 0.94, the faster he pushed his plane the smoother his aircraft rode.

Suddenly his Speedometer went off the scale and fluctuated wildly.  What was going on? He had reached supersonic flight! Chuck Yeager had broken the sound barrier!

The Unknown to Reality

Yeager felt a mix of relief and let-down. He explains, “After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway. …And that was it. I sat up there feeling kind of numb, but elated. After all the anticipation to achieve this moment, it really was a let-down. It took an instrument meter to tell me what I’d done. There should’ve been a bump in the road, something to let you know you had just punched a nice clean hole through that sonic barrier. The unknown was a mere poke through Jello.”[i]

And so it is with most of our fearful “unknowns” – they rarely meet our expectations. They are not the burdens or the barriers we fear.

The Word of God gives more than one hundred commands not to be afraid. For instance, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God.  I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). Someone said: “Fear knocked at the door.  Faith answered.  No one was there.” Answer your fear of the unknown with faith.


Dear Father in heaven, help me to face the unknowns of my life with courage and with faith in You.  Remind me that there is nothing in this world that You and I cannot handle.  Amen.


[i] From Yeager: An Autobiography

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