Growing up I loved roller coasters. The unexpected turns that solicit a quick yelp, the random twists that feel like flying, the big hills that give a glorious view of the park, the big dips that make you wonder when you’ll pull up again. Fun times.
I’ve decided lately that life is a bit like a roller coaster.
There are certainly the unexpected turns. Things we thought would happen don’t. (We are still without job, home, savings, children, spouse, etc.) Things we never thought would happen do (A loved one dies, falls ill, is injured, killed, is wayward.) Of course there are the happy unexpected turns as well, but often we forget those.
There are random twists. The twist of betrayal, of injury, of hurt, of family dysfunction. Things seem all out of whack. It feels like “flying” alright, but more like free falling.
Gratefully there are big hills. Moments when we feel God lift us up. We see clearly. We are filled with zeal, commitment, and the pursuit of holiness. We are optimistic, idealistic, and we feel as if St. Paul’s words are true for us as well, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” But the getting up the hill is sometimes more laborious and we usually climb anxiously and begrudgingly. Sometimes we are dragged.
Then we experience the big dips, the downward side of the hill. It feels as if the bottom dropped out. Who am I? Where am I headed? Is God really in control? Does He really care about me? Does He really love me? When will this pain, illness, heartache, desperation, debt, or temptation end? You may feel you’re riding with arms up and flailing, screaming at the top of your lungs.
Yes, life is like a roller coaster. If we expect smooth sailing, we’ll be sorely disappointed. But if we can begin to enjoy the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the unexpected perspectives it will be much more pleasant.
How is that possible? How can we “enjoy” the ups and downs of life? How can the dips and twists ever be remotely pleasant?
Well, how can one enjoy a roller coaster? Because you are strapped into the car. You are safe.
The psalmist says: “My soul clings to thee; thy right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:8) “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Psalm 18:2) “The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) “ . . . for thou alone, O LORD, makest me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)
There were no roller coasters in ancient times, but there was life and all the ups and downs that go with it. The psalmist new what to do: to cling, to take refuge, and to strap himself to safety, to his God.
This is what we can do as well. Strap ourselves to God in prayer. This is a powerful image for me. It is no guarantee we will feel no pain or no fear through the ups and downs. (Being strapped into a roller coaster does not prevent your stomach from dropping or your pulse from racing.) But the strap ensures you’ll arrive safely to the end of the ride.
You can enjoy the ride (emphasis on the word joy – which is something different and deeper than fleeting pleasure) because you’re strapped in safety to the one who is in control of all things.
Life is a roller coaster. Strap yourself in.