Whenever I was younger, I hated roller coasters.
My opinion on them has changed since then, but back when I was a young 'un, roller coasters used to drive me crazy. The ups and downs, the twists and turns, the slow uphill that unfailingly led to the gut-wrenching drop that left me resting assured that I was about to die…those instances struck me with absolute terror, and I hated every second of it. I used to refuse riding them, in fact. I’ve never been what people would call an “adrenaline junkie,” so the idea of putting myself through unnecessary strife has always been blatantly unappealing.
It wasn’t until later in life that I would realize that life itself is a lot like a roller coaster, only you don’t get to choose whether or not you’re on board.
Another analogy can be found in terms of music. If my friends and I drive somewhere – whether it be a long-distance road trip or a short voyage to the grocery store– I prefer to be the driver, and if I’m being brutally honest here, it’s largely because if I’m driving, that means I’m in charge of what kind of music we listen to. You see, a bunch of people my age absolutely adore rap music, and I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not a fan; the problem is, whenever I ride in another person’s car, I have to listen to it, and for some odd reason they seem to think that max volume is the only acceptable level with which one can appreciate such entertainment. It drives me nuts, so I figured I’d spare myself the grief by driving myself most places – that way we can jam out to some classic rock or old-school Disney or whatever music I’m in the mood for at the moment.
The problem is, life is a lot like riding in a friend’s car; you don’t get to choose what song to listen to and you don’t get to choose what volume to play it at – you only get to choose how to react to the situation you're in.
The reason I say all this is because whenever life hits you with a curveball, your reaction is muy importante – it says a whole lot about you and where your hope, faith, and trust lie. You see, in the first situation (the roller coasters), I learned to adapt to my environment by learning to embrace the roller coasters, realizing that if I was going to try and be social and go hang out with friends, I would have to learn to embrace the ups and downs, twists and turns, slow rises and quick falls. However, for the second scenario (driving with friends), I did the exact opposite: I decided not to adapt to the environment, choosing my own comfort and relief over the adversity that comes with dealing with music I might or might not like. In one situation I decided to hand over the control and learn to embrace the bumpiness, while in the other one I fought for control, possibly at the expense of others. (After all, who is to say that my friends enjoy my music?)
What I’m getting at is this: In life, we don’t always have the choice of control or not-to-control, adapt or not-to-adapt. Whether you like it or not, sometimes you’re going to find yourself buckled into a roller coaster you don’t want to be on, or stuck sitting in a car listening to music you absolutely abhor. This is life, and it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to do about it. You don’t have control over the situation, but you have control over how you react.
I think of the disciples when they were riding in their boat across the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and this massive storm hits (see Matthew 8, Mark 4). Jesus is sleeping as the waves start crashing against the boat, and the disciples flip out! The clouds are dark and the sea is furious and they at last realize that they could very well die. They have absolutely no control over the situation, and the result of this realization is terror. And, quite smartly,they go to Jesus. “Lord!” they call, a great way to begin voicing any of your problems; however, they mess everything up whenever they follow up the uplifting title by questioning whether or not He cares if they drown. Jesus, calmly awaking from His slumber, stands up and looks at them, turns to casually calm the sea with nothing but a verbal command, and then looks back at them. “Why are you so afraid?” He asks them. “Have you still no faith?”
The moral I take out of this story is two-fold. First off, I think it’s important to notice that the disciples’ fear and terror and anxiety were totally unneeded! The reason they were afraid of the storm is because they didn’t have control over it, and that very fact caused them so much stress that they questioned whether or not Jesus even cared for them – something he had already proven time and time again. The physical storm in which they stood produced an internal storm within them, a storm of doubt and frustration that resulted in a severe lack of faith, all because they were not in control of the situation at hand. Second, it’s important to take note of the fact that as soon as they handed the problem over to Jesus, He eased their frustrations. Once they relinquished their control by handing the problem over to someone who could do something about it, everything got better. What was defined in their minds and hearts as assured death now became reassured life, topped with a cherry and sprinkles in what can only be known as renewed faith. By forsaking their own control and handing the problem to God, they willingly admitted that they needed His aid. Sometimes you just need to be humble enough to admit that you aren't in control, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Isn’t this how we should live our lives?
Stress, anxiety, and fear all stem from one common source: lack of control. Whenever we feel that we don’t have control over some particular aspect of our life, we react by displaying one of these emotions, but time and time again throughout the Bible we see examples of why we shouldn’t stress, shouldn’t be anxious, shouldn’t be fearful. In the example I just mentioned, what is the very first thing Jesus says to his disciples? Why are you so afraid. Whenever you have God Himself fighting your battle for you, why should you ever bother with silly things like stress or fear? This is a problem I notice increasingly with people nowadays, in our extremely busy world of going-going-going, non-stop going; people want more and more to fight for control over their own lives, and when they don’t have control, they flip out just like the disciples in that storm. This is probably further emphasized by the fact that I’m in college, and every time finals pop up, stress levels seem to skyrocket through the roof. Stress and anxiety seem to define the average college student’s life, and it’s been a crazy thing to witness.
Think of David when he fought Goliath. Here we have a scrawny kid in his early-to-mid teens walking into battle against some ginormous monster of a man who even the best of Israel’s warriors were afraid of facing. David hadn’t been looking for a fight – he’d just been performing a task for his father, bringing food to his older brothers, all of whom were amongst those warriors too afraid to fight the behemoth Philistine – but as soon as the young shepherd boy saw Goliath tormenting the Israelite nation, he knew it was time to act. No reserves. No retreats. No regrets. David wasn’t intimidated by Goliath because he knew that God was on his side, and who was/is more powerful than the omnipotent Creator of the universe? Where everybody else saw a giant in the Philistine warrior, David saw nothing but a dwarf. God was the giant in his life, and recognizing this is what gave him the courage to step into the Valley of Elah with nothing but his shepherd’s staff, sling, pouch, and five smooth stones. Not only did he leave weapons and armor behind, but he also left any stress, anxiety, or fear that could have mounted up in him and stolen from him the victory. The battle was God’s and David recognized as much, knowing that he himself had nothing to prove and nothing to lose. He was stripped down to nothing but his faith so that he could confidently look into the smirking giant’s face and say, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Mighty words for such a small guy with no battle experience, but history tells us who prevailed. Turns out he didn't even need five smooth stones, because God finished the job with just one.
When God’s on your side, the giants become dwarfs and those dwarfs are so easily overcome. Why stress? Why be anxious? Why be fearful?
And this is but one more example from hundreds throughout the Bible. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” These are the words Paul uses in his closing statements to the church of Philippi in the epistle that bears their name, and it’s something that I think we all should learn to apply on a day-to-day basis. If you ever feel anxious or stressed or just lost or distant, go to God about it. Talk to Him, tell Him your troubles. Voice your worries. Hand Him the reigns. Tell Him about the giants you face and let Him take over the battle to help guarantee victory for your good and His glory. And through all of this, rejoice, because no battle is lost when the Lord of hosts is your commanding officer!
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…it’s easy to talk about not stressing, not being anxious, and not being fearful, but turning words into action and action into philosophy and philosophy into lifestyle is a much more difficult process. I know the struggle because I had to go through it myself – I still have to go through it from time to time (#FindTheStrawberries) – but I can tell you this: it’s worth it. Being stressed and being anxious are acts that do nothing but give you more reason to be stressed and anxious (weird how that works, isn’t it?), and I haven’t done any research in regards to this, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that having a clear, stress-free, fear-free mind helps increase efficiency and productivity in your day-to-day life. This is slightly tangential to the topic at hand, but noteworthy nonetheless.
So, back to the rub. This is my encouragement to you: Let go of the controls and hand things over to God. Whether you have tests coming up, you're struggling with some major life decisions, or you're simply going to watch a scary movie with a group a friends, place your trust in God in all things! Go to Him in prayer and supplication about everything. That way, when you find yourself on the roller coaster and it’s hitting those twists and turns and sudden drops, you can actually enjoy them rather than be terrified of what’s coming next. Rather than living in the past or the future, you will be able to live in the present moment and take in all the glories of God’s masterpiece, freeing yourself of whatever mental blockades and hindrances you had established for yourself.
You can’t choose the playlist of your life, but you do get to choose how you respond to that playlist, even if its deafening rap music that threatens to make your ears bleed. Rejoice in all things and leave all stress, intimidation, and nervousness at the door. The Lord God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three-in-one – the Almighty Creator of the Universe, loves and cares for you and has a plan specifically for your life. Yahweh yireh – the Lord will provide. Forsake all burdens that are weighing you down and willingly hand them over to Christ. He can carry them, and He proved as much when He willingly and sacrificially bore your cross. If Jesus went through all of that pain so that we might find comfort in being saved, then aren't be doing Him a disservice by continuing to stress or worry about the things that this life throws in our direction? Christ died that we might live and live to the fullest, so make the most of your life by abandoning all worries and doubts and instead placing your hope in the Lord of blessed assurance. He loves you, He wants a relationship with you, and He is always there for you.
Whenever a promise like that rings true in your mind, even the largest of giants looks like nothing more than a dwarf. And trust me, with God on your side, all things are possible. Just hand him the reigns.