BY PHIL YODER
I love rollercoasters - and have since I rode my first one as a 5 or 6-year-old. My love for them today is rooted in my childhood, but my excitement for them today remains just as passionate. I have had a recurring dream most of my life (and still do today) of trying to get to Hershey Park, my local amusement park when growing up, on time. In this dream, I am never being able to successfully arrive at the park. Clearly, this love for rollercoasters is on an unconscious level. So, started asking myself, is there something deeply meaningful or spiritual about rollercoasters? The following is a reflection on what rollercoasters might mean to me now in this time of transition into the role of a pastor.
Choosing to ride
New life experiences begin with a yes. Every rollercoaster ride begins with the initial decision to get in line for the ride. Sometimes, the ride is so scary looking that even the line itself is too intimidating to enter into. Even just considering getting on the ride can be overwhelming. Phobias of heights, motion sickness, high speeds are real. Will I at the very least get in line?
Getting on the rollercoaster
It’s not uncommon for people to back out on getting on the rollercoaster at the last second. The fear of new experiences is real. Who knows what is going to happen? Who knows what turns are up ahead? What does an inversion or loop feel like? Rollercoaster are monstrous these days. You have to get on it to find out, or you will always be looking from the outside.
The first ride: Riding tightly gripped
The first time on a ride, often people ride tightly gripped to the handlebars. The anxiety and fear of riding can make the rider hold on more tightly. As a result, the ride can be very jarring. I remember the first time as a kid riding “The Great Bear,” a rollercoaster that looked so scary that I chose to close my eyes and hold on tight. As a result, I was thrown around in my seat and unable to adjust each part of the ride. When a turn or hill comes, you do loosen your grip and allow the ride to take you on the journey? Or do you hold on tightly and get jarred around?
At the beginning of a rollercoaster (and of a new job), the large highs and lows of the hills can feel completely overwhelming. At one moment, you are at the top of them, hundreds of feet in the air. At the next moment, you are at the bottom, perhaps feeling down about how something went. Like rollercoasters, new beginnings always have the biggest swing from high to low: High moments of success and connection, and low moments of failure and disconnection. If you are anything like me, the swings from high to low can happen quickly. Usually, overtime, the extremes are not so big. In the latter half of the ride, the hills are smaller, and don’t seem so scary. It just takes time.
Floating through a rollercoaster
In order to experience floating through a ride, you have to let go of the handle bars. You have to be familiar with the layout (and the anxieties and fears that come with it) and allow yourself to be pulled through it. It does not mean it isn’t scary or doesn't make you anxious, but it means that you have prioritized something else other than fear. You have to prioritize trust. Trust you will make it down the first hill, and the second, and the third. Trust that, as you float out of your seat, that the harness will keep you in the cart. (which, in my opinion, is the best part of rollercoasters) Trust that eventually the large hills will come to an end, and you will in fact come to a steady stop. This takes time. You have to have ridden the rollercoaster many times to start floating. You have to have ridden many rollercoasters in order to be less scared of new ones. And so getting to the space of floating simply takes time and experience.
To me, floating through a rollercoaster, feels very similar to experiencing moments of grace. It's like feeling full of the spirit, full of creativity, or full of connection with others.
But in order to get to floating through a rollercoaster, you need to have gotten in line, have gotten on the ride, have let go of a tight grip on the handle bars, have become familiar with the large ups and downs, and begin to trust - trust that there is grace there the whole time, waiting for you.
Some rollercoasters are terrible
And you need to know when to stop riding them. Probably, back pain and nausea are good enough indicators to stop anything in life. However, you do not know this without trying it out.
May you trust that God is with you for the ride. And may God bless you, and be with you as you continue whatever stage of rollercoaster riding you are on, and may you feel God’s grace meeting you on whatever rollercoaster you are riding.