Smoothing out roller coaster feelings

Who thought it was a good idea to sit here in the front row of a roller coaster? I asked myself, as my stomach felt like a thousand butterflies fighting to get out.

I had a feeling that this was going to happen when I was standing in line. When I was young, I had heard about the “Leap-The-Dips” roller coaster, built in 1902 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I had always wanted to experience that kind of fun, but now I was an adult, and standing in line for a newer and bigger roller coaster in Ohio. Seeing how high the structure was, my resolve started to weaken. In a front-row seat, I looked ahead at the tracks climbing skyward, reaching almost to the puffy clouds overhead. Suddenly I wished I were back at the ice cream stand we had just passed, instead of on the ride. 

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I consoled myself that the Leap-The-Dips had run for many years without any major complications, but before I could ruminate any further, the car had filled and we started to roll slowly, clank … clank … clack … clack, and my heart was echoing with that rhythm. Beat … beat … beat … beat … inching our way up above the midway, the entire amusement park appearing below. Just when I wondered if the car would make the summit, it finally made it over and rocketed down the other side, going faster and faster. My ears filled with happy screams of those on board, and I had a funny, queasy feeling in my stomach, not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or scream. With a wrenching jerk we bottomed out and started up the next hill, heading toward another adventurous descent.

Thinking back, I’m glad I experienced that ride and a few others in the following years. It’s funny how similar many of life’s experiences can be to those roller coaster rides: the ups and downs of moments filled with expectation and anticipation, sometimes followed by fear and regret—abrupt stock market fluctuations, perhaps our personal finances, strained relationships among countries, our relationships with family and friends, or our loved ones’ health.

At one time I was working in a data center for an automotive manufacturing company. The corporation was honoring one particular plant manager for excellent profitability, productivity, and safety numbers. Sitting in his office that day, I congratulated him for the recognition, and he told me, “Pat, in this business, when things look really good on paper, they’re not always as good as they look. And when our plant looks bad on paper, it’s not really as bad as it looks, either.” I saw that comment as a reflection of life in general. We perceive a juxtaposition of happiness and sorrow, of exhilaration and fear, of confidence and doubt—extremes that should really be seen with a calmer sense of what’s truly going on.

In my own recent experience, I have reinforced the conviction that we really can slow down the roller coaster of extremity and gain confidence by turning to God for guidance. My solution is to turn to the Bible, as well as Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, an influential American author, teacher, and religious leader, noted for her groundbreaking ideas about spirituality and health.

Our reliance on God, our spiritual source, provides health, happiness, sanity, and life where their opposites appear to be.

When I read the Bible, I find such reassuring examples of how others in history have been able to smooth out the bumps of life by seeing it in a more spiritual context, showing us how to solve our problems in practical ways rather than being discouraged and disappointed. Christ Jesus, for example, was a great calming influence on his disciples and on others who were with him. In the midst of a storm at sea, when his disciples were sure that tragedy was imminent (the height of fear!), Jesus was asleep. They woke him, and immediately he calmed the storm (see Matthew 8:23–27). His actions not only stilled the storm but calmed their thoughts and removed their fear, as when a young child is fearful during the night and the father or mother goes into the bedroom to reassure the child that all is well and that he or she is safe.

In every other moment when we see Jesus in the Bible, he is demonstrating how our reliance on God, our spiritual source, provides health, happiness, sanity, and life where their opposites appear to be. So it should not be a surprise that Jesus said, “Peace be unto you,” to those he met (John 20:19). As we see through a storm we might be facing, the multitudes of our needs are fed, illness is healed, tears are turned to laughter, and turbulence in general is smoothed. Indeed, countless contemporary testimonies of healing in this magazine and others show how people have stilled roller-coaster situations in their lives by relying on this kind of calming, uplifting prayer.

I am sure many have prayed to understand, as I have, “What can I do to place myself on a more even keel? How can I experience more consistency, more harmony, less upheaval in life?” Mary Baker Eddy wrote this: “Man is not a pendulum, swinging between evil and good, joy and sorrow, sickness and health, life and death” (Science and Health, p. 246). With this idea in mind, we can turn the roller coaster in our thoughts into a gentle carousel, smooth the ups and downs, and listen to the calliope (steam organ) playing a cheerful melody as we feel God’s calming reassurance.

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