I rode a roller coaster for the first time in October 2015. One of my good friends had an extra pass to Fiesta Texas – Six Flags and she invited me to celebrate her birthday with an afternoon of thrilling rides. It sounded like so much fun! She and her husband love roller coasters! The faster the ride, the longer the course, the more daring the maneuvers; the more they just lean into it; hands raised,eyes wide open, deeply delighted as they climb and plunge, tumble, and turn. My goal, on the other hand, was to go through the whole experience without throwing up. Somehow chicken fried steak had sounded good at lunch so that is what I had eaten before this new adventure – hind sight is indeed 20/20.
On the first ride my eyes were tightly shut. I figured if I didn’t see what was coming I would be fine. Having figured out that there were only so many ways my body could be jostled, I was satisfied this was a great plan to keep all my food in my stomach. It worked well. I got off the first ride triumphant. After talking to my ride mates however, I quickly learned a ride is not a ride unless my eyes were open and my hands were up in the air. On the next ride my goal was to open my eyes periodically throughout the ride, for a sum total of about 25 percent of the ride. I met my goal and was proud of my achievement. On and on I went with bite size goals of embracing the roller coaster experience until we were finally on the iron rattler. This is the mother of all rides. It is long and daring with all the components of a thrilling ride including a dark tunnel. Strapped down next to my friend expecting to be terrified, I surprisingly couldn’t help but give into her delight. She excitedly told me that the last time she had come to Six Flags she rode that ride 7 times!!! At this point my goal was to keep my eyes open during the whole ride and perhaps even squeal in delight and not terror! Just as we were starting the ascent to the highest point before the nearly vertical plunge, my excited friend was pointing out the beautiful view of the city. This quick mini tour was a great distraction. Just before the descent that would be the true start of the ride she said: “Keep your eyes open and lean into the curves.” I did, and it was my best ride. Sure, my stomach dropped with that near vertical drop, my heart rate rose a couple of times when it looked like we would dive right into the water below us or when we went through the pitch black tunnel but it was the thrill of adrenaline coursing through my body not terror of an awful outcome.
As I reflect on the events of this year, I remember this roller coaster experience and the well-known metaphor that life is roller coaster. Much like a roller coaster ride, in life there are times we feel safe and in control but there are also times when we are plunging into tunnels upside down at scary speeds. If we have no idea where our lives are going or who is in control, we have every reason to panic. However knowing our God holds us and every circumstance we face in the palm of his hand should help us lean into these moments, keep our eyes open and even let out a squeal of delight as we recognize the provision and care of a God who will never let us plunge into the deep alone. Here is what that looks like for me:
Leaning into the moment
I need to resist the urge to fight against my circumstances. I am not advocating complacency or knowingly staying in harmful situations. I am talking about those circumstances in which one needs to stay the course. In these circumstances I fight in many ways, the most common being complaining and sulking (not my finest moments). My resistance easily seeps into everything, so from the moment I get out of bed I need to choose to believe this is the day the lord has made and I can rejoice and be glad in it, no matter what the day holds. When things are hard, I need to be okay with navigating the challenges if that is what God wants me to do. I truly need to be open to God’s leading when I am praying about what I want or how I feel. For the times when I cannot really put my yes on the table, I need to ask God to help me get there.
Keeping my eyes open
When I am going through something difficult, it is so tempting for me to put up walls or find distractions to keep it from getting to me. Much like riding a roller coaster with my eyes closed, both of these tendencies deprive me of the richness of the experience. When handled well, difficulties can shape character, refine beliefs, and deepen relationships, but I am often so wrapped up in my struggle I don’t want to open myself up to these possibilities. For me keeping my eyes open means allowing myself to cry if necessary, acknowledging how difficult a circumstance is but seeking the truth and the strength that will help me get through it. Keeping my eyes open also means watching expectantly for the hand of God. Trusting that he is right there with me not as a passive spectator but an active participant.
Letting out a squeal of delight
When you can learn to enjoy instead of dread a rush of adrenaline, what would otherwise be scary experiences, become thrilling opportunities. I am not in any way an adrenaline junkie nor do I think I will ever become one. I have my apprehension of heights to thank for this certainty. Nonetheless, I think there is something so freeing about not being fearful in a situation that could induce fear. So when I need to surrender to God’s plan especially when it is uncomfortable, learning to be thankful and joyful is one of the most satisfying and life giving experiences I have had. I am not advocating meaningless platitudes, insincere joy or even the masochistic thankfulness for disaster. No, rather joy and thankfulness in the midst of hardship recognizes that even in those impossible circumstances somehow God’s light penetrates and this gives us hope that there is nothing he cannot overcome.
In whatever area you are choosing to resist surrendering to God’s plan for you – choose instead to take steps toward entrusting yourself to him. Think of the ways he wants you to lean into that moment, keep your eyes open and let out a squeal of delight. Start praying for the strength to do these things. If you are preparing to ride a roller coaster, word to the wise: Do not eat chicken fried steak before spending an afternoon riding roller coasters! My food stayed in my stomach, thankfully, but I was a little queasy for a couple of hours after I got home that day. As we all ride the life roller coaster, I hope we will encourage one another to trust our maker and enjoy the ride – daring maneuvers and all.