Rollercoasters + A Toy Story
I doubt this is a surprise to most, but I was a pretty cautious kid. I don’t know if this stemmed from the oldest-child gene or my hesitancy to make decisions or if it was just a little bit of neuroticism.
For example, some of my earliest memories involve my grandparents taking me to K-Mart and telling me I could pick out one toy to buy. I would meticulously look at every single item in the kids’ aisle, set aside my favorites, and carefully weigh my selection—like I was choosing either Woody or Buzz Lightyear and the consequences to my decision affected the toys’ tiny, important lives.
What if this doll wouldn’t fit in with my other dolls? What if I got home and was still wishing I had the pastel-colored Polly Pocket?
My grandmother, in all of her patience, would help me talk through the pros and cons of each toy or doll and eventually, with much consideration and worst-case scenario imagining, I would choose the winning item.
Fast forward a few years—I was about ten years old with my parents and little sister in Disney World, and I was terrified of rollercoasters (and rollercoaster-adjacent rides). My dad begged me to ride one with him, to try something a little more advanced than the kiddie rides, but I refused all day long out of fear and caution. I would go to my worst-case scenario thinking once again: “What if I fell out of the rollercoaster? What if I threw up? What if the ride broke down halfway through?”
Eventually, I showed some interest in the log ride (Splash Mountain) after my parents’ constant reassurance that we would be okay. I insisted on watching at least ten logs come down the last big drop as some sort of test subjects for my impending compliance. The kids and adults all looked happy and safe as they completed the drop with all of their limbs intact, so I gave my stamp of approval and headed for the line with my dad while my mom and toddler-sister waited on a nearby bench. The whole time we spent in line, my dad attempted to pep me up by talking about how fun it would be, and then we inevitably took our turn boarding the ride.
I settled into the fake log as we slowly drifted along the water; we safely landed a few small drops and the animated characters along the way were a good distraction. We were all smiles as we got near the end of the ride, but then I once again grew afraid of the final, biggest drop. We started to head up the incline, where just over the hill would be the biggest plunge yet, and then we came to a sudden stop. At first we thought it was part of the ride, some sort of manipulative method to build suspense, but then the lights flicked on while an employee appeared. The ride had broken down. We were stuck.
As the Disney employee helped us out of the log and onto the emergency sidewalk, I realized that my worst-case scenario had come true. I was living out my imaginative fears. But you know what? It was okay. Not because I was no longer scared or disappointed or freaked out. But I knew I would make it through because my dad was right beside me.
We eventually got back on the log ride, survived the final, giant splash, and animatedly recounted the unlikely story to my mom. Apparently I wasn’t too traumatized from that experience, because at some point I became a fan of rollercoasters and dismissed any lingering fears over amusement parks.
It’s easy to look back and laugh at my little girl self, who was all too easily scared and indulgent in “What if?” thoughts, but what I’ve come to realize is that we do the same thing as adults. While these thoughts may sound more “grown-up,” aren’t they still just asking, “What if the worst happens?”
What if I never get married?
What if I get fired?
What if my spouse passes away?
What if my kids turn their backs on God?
Unfortunately, sometimes our worst fears become reality. But you know what? We can survive our biggest fears. We can make it through the worst-case scenarios. Because our Father is right beside us.
Just like in Daniel, God may allow us to fall into the fire. But He doesn’t leave us alone in the fiery furnace. So instead of allowing our thoughts to go down the rabbit hole of the worst possible scenarios, we should stop ourselves and say, “If that happens, God will still be good. And I will still trust in Him.” We can find contentment in every situation because God remains with us, and He will sustain us even in the deepest valleys. Paul talks about this same idea in Philippians, right before one of the most taken-out-of-context verses of all time:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).
I think we can safely assume that we’ve all heard that last verse used as a rallying cry to win a game, ace a test, or triumph over a trial. And I believe that God does strengthen us for those things, but we can’t ignore the rest of the words: plenty AND hunger, abundance AND need, any and every circumstance. After all, these encouraging verses are not coming from a guy who had a rainbows-and-butterflies kind of life. They are coming from a guy who faced the worst situations (blinded, shipwrecked, thrown in prison, constant death threats), and he still trusted in his Savior. Not because he believed that everything would work out easily, but because he had an unshakable faith that God’s plan was better than his own and he could face anything with the Lord on his side.
Maybe you’re in a season of abundance — the rollercoaster of life is moving along steadily and smoothly and you find yourself with your hands in the air, grinning and laughing with loved ones. In this season, don’t forget to praise God in all of His goodness. Or maybe you’re in a season of need— there are a few more loops than you expected and you find yourself on an emergency sidewalk living out your worst nightmares. In this season, don’t forget to praise God in all of His goodness. Because your father is still beside you, ready to carry you through your fears.
And at the end of the day, no matter the season we are in or the scenarios we might be facing, our thoughts can turn from worry into worship as we allow the Lord to replace the fear of the unknown with the peace of His presence. Because here are a few truths we can take to the bank: God is faithful in the good and the bad and the in-between, and He never leaves those He has called by name.