You rush to the end of the line for the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park, elbowing your way in front of another pair of riders because getting behind those two additional people might possibly cause you to wait an extra ninety seconds when you finally reach the other end of the line. You look up: “Two-hour wait from this point.” One hundred and twenty minutes is a long time to compel your mind to focus on something—anything—other than this death-defying machine that will hurl you through space with your bare feet dangling below…then above…then beside you. You make friendly conversation with the people behind you and try to pretend that you didn’t accost them just so you could cut those seconds off your wait time.
That fluttering in your stomach
is not from lack of food…
After the interminable two hours leaves you with tired feet, back pain (if you’re over forty, like me), and a growling stomach, you finally arrive at the front gates. Brief images of Churchill Downs flash through your mind…or is it the cattle chutes at a slaughterhouse? You realize the fluttering in your stomach is not from lack of food. You irrationally forget that at least four million people were in front of you in that line and not one of them is now dead. Your hands grip the cow-herding bars. Your tongue stutters and you try to laugh it off. You put on your brave face because everyone around you already remembered to do that, and you don’t want to be the odd-man-out.
Even as you kick off your flip-flops, you know there is still time to back out. How can you be sure the mechanism will support you? Why should you trust the engineers and mechanics who built this contraption? What if your safety harness unlatches mid-barrel roll? There’s the exit gate; you see it at the end of the platform. Shoes in one hand, cell phone in the other, you hesitate as you reach toward the cubbyhole. All the friendly encouragement in the world could not boost your confidence at this moment.
That is doubt—pure doubt in which you question the sanity not only of yourself but of those around you and those in authority over you. You mentally test the waters of justification and consider the ramifications of walking away even while you empty your hands and turn toward certain death . . . at least it feels like it.
Taking a deep breath, you step across that gap, an empty space between solid ground and steel girders. The seat grabs you, and before you realize what has happened, the safety harness is locked, the minimum-wage college-age ride attendant has “inspected” your latch (yeah, right), and you are moving.
You had to leave your justifications
and ramifications in that cubbyhole
with your spare change.
Now doubt has a new face. You are committed and your doubts, while still relevant, cannot affect your actions. Well, you could scream, but nothing would really change. You had to leave your justifications and ramifications in that cubbyhole with your spare change. The click-click-click of the up-hill climb sounds like a time bomb, and in the momentary hesitation at the top, you feel certain that you are facing death. You sit very still because any sudden movement will surely knock the entire chain of seats off the rail. Stopping the engines and returning to the platform is not an option.
Ninety seconds later, smile plastered to your face (along with a couple of small bugs), you coast back into the platform and tell the next row of risk-takers, “You’re gonna love it!”
Risk-taking always involves doubt. That’s what makes it risky. The real choice was a simple one: Do you step across that open-air gap into the seat or do you walk away and never know, tattooing the doubts onto your soul forever? The act of faith transpired in that gap.
That sounds a little intense for an amusement park, I know.
Risk and doubt are just as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are much greater. We’re talking about eternity here. Just like with the roller coaster, there is only one way to remove the doubts: experience. And the only way to get the experience is to commit despite the doubts. When you choose to follow Christ, you step across a gap into a new world of risk and adventure. Your doubts don’t simply vanish, but as you gain experience, they become calculable risks. And just like with the roller coaster, you are actually safe whether you recognize it or not.
Do you like roller coasters? I love them and hate them, yet I continue to get in line. How does this imagery help you face the inevitable risks of the Christ-life? Please share with all of us in the comments below!
*not The Gap®, the clothing store