A Spiritual Lesson from a Roller Coaster

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion. The first hill at the top, with the following airtime hill in the middle.

My teenage son is a roller coaster enthusiast.  He memorizes how tall they all are, how many inversions they each have, who the manufacturers are, how they work, and anything else he can find out.  He takes lots of pictures of roller coasters, including the one I used for this post.  Fortunately, I like them too.  We’ve been on well over 100 different coasters together and will ride anything, but we do have slightly different tastes.  Usually, he likes airtime more than I do, and I like intensity more than he does.  As an enthusiast, he’s the one who told me what a greyout is: “a transient loss of vision characterized by a perceived dimming of light and color, sometimes accompanied by a loss of peripheral vision.”[1]  Caused by low brain oxygen levels, a greyout can happen on roller coasters and can be a precursor to fainting.

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion in Virginia was my first greyout.  The ride, with a 90-mph top speed on the 300-foot first drop, is themed after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, whose nickname was “The Intimidator.”  At the bottom of that first drop, the track banks into a 270-degree turn to the right, and the first time on it, the edges of my vision began to fade as blood rushed to my legs and feet.  I felt the intensity rising, and my field of vision gradually narrowed into a small pinpoint, and I nervously tensed up.  However, before I knew it, I was fine and back to enjoying the ride.

After we got off, I mentioned my greyout and my enthusiast son explained why I recovered so quickly.  It was no accident.  Intimidator 305 was designed by people who knew what the ride would do to people, so after the 270-degree turn, there is a 150-foot airtime hill.  As the train comes up this hill, the track bends down at a lower angle than the train would go on its own momentum, which not only gives riders “airtime” as they feel weightless, but also gives a rush of blood to the brain.  So, by design, I experienced greyout, followed by an amazingly quick return to normal, without fainting. 

What’s the spiritual lesson in this?  There are times where our lives feel like we’re in that disorienting 270-degree turn at 90 mph.  Our awareness narrows to where we can only see the problems in front of us and our body begins to feel stress.  In some cases, the stress itself might become the only thing we can see, having forgotten what caused it.  That intense turn can seem like it will never end, and we can’t see the relief ahead of us.  Sometimes it comes after a great success, perhaps right after the thrill of dropping down a hill at high speed…Or perhaps after experiencing a miracle.  Peter had such faith that he walked on water, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”[2]  Even Apostles felt hopeless sometimes.

Like Peter, when we cry out “Lord, save me” we may need a reminder of 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul wrote: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

We may need a reminder from a Christian enthusiast, or maybe from our Father Himself, that we have a way of escape by design. After every sharp turn we think will never end is a refreshing moment where we feel weightless, held by our Lord in His loving embrace. In Peter’s case, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.[3] In the Father’s wisdom, relief will not always be immediate – it may take longer than we expect, but it is inevitable because He promises it.

That day, we rode Intimidator 305 three more times and every time I wasn’t as worried about the greyout because I knew that airtime hill was coming.  It’s now one of my favorites.  Thankfully, our lives also are in the hands of a Designer who knows how to teach us to trust Him, and also how to heal us when life’s troubles feel like they’re going to knock us out.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greyout
[2] Matthew 14:29-30
[3] Matthew 14:31-32

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