Posted by: Mike Willoughby | February 8, 2011

A Roller Coaster Life by Design

As I sit down to write this article, I am in a hotel room in Maastricht, The Netherlands just a few miles from our European headquarters.  I will be in meetings on Tuesday evening and Wednesday and then back home for the weekend before taking on next week with more travel and meetings.  This is the kind of pace I have been on for many months now.  While the great things going on in our business have me feeling exhilarated, the pace can wear on me.  Also, while most of the events on my schedule are positive opportunities to serve my clients and my employees, minister to my church family and serve my own family, there are other times when the crush of my schedule brings disappointment, stress and anxiety.  If only we could eliminate the negative things life brings especially the unexpected negative things.  Wouldn’t life be so much more fulfilling and pleasant without all the surprises?

Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.”  I understand the sentiment behind the maxim that Forrest’s Mama passed onto him to explain the surprises of life.  But really, every bite of life is not another delicious confection.  Sometimes the bites of life we take are not just bitter like dark chocolate, they can be downright yuck.  Instead of the analogy of a box of yummy chocolates to explain life, I think life is like a roller coaster!  You never know what’s coming next and it may be exhilarating or it may be a pain in the neck!   

Does anyone else feel as though life is like a roller coaster?  Have you ever said you’ve been on an emotional roller coaster?  Perhaps you’ve heard someone describe a tumultuous relationship as a real roller coaster ride?  Life just seems to dish out roller coaster moments right and left – rapid changes in speed followed by abrupt changes in attitude as you are right side up one moment and upside down the next.  Are you dizzy yet?  And what do you think about those changes in altitude?  One moment you are high and the next moment low.  Ever feel like you’re stuck on one of those loopty-loops in life? 

There is a very interesting ride at Disney World that maximizes the thrill of the unknown.  I know some of you are familiar with the Space Mountain ride.  Space Mountain takes all the best of the coaster thrills and packs them into a dark building.  You ride the entire ride in the dark with only a faint string of LED lights to dimly show you the path you are following.  Talk about a thrill for the first ride!  You have no idea what’s coming next and it can be very disorienting.  Perhaps that is why the list of warnings to prospective riders is a mile long.

Add the unpredictable nature of the Space Mountain version of the roller coaster and I think you have the perfect analogy for life as I’ve experienced!  Unpredictable and abrupt changes as we ride along in the dark that can come together to be a real pain in the neck at times!  Thrilling, yes!  But scary at times too!

Perhaps it would help you understand my analogy to think about your own experience with roller coasters!  I definitely remember my first ride on the long-gone Big Bend coaster at Six Flags over Texas.  I was terrified as my Dad literally dragged me into the car and strapped me in.  I thought I was going to throw up, but by the end of the ride, I was hooked!  I’m also certain by the end of the day and 20 coaster rides later, my Dad was ready to throw up!  Now I love them and my wife, Kristal loves them.  We even made a convert out of our son, Jackson in a very similar traumatic father-son incident on the Steel Eel at Sea World San Antonio the summer of 2008. 

Jackson and his cousin were similarly terrified at the thought of riding the coaster and yet we literally dragged them into the car with us.  As we crested the first hill and plunged down to meet the ground, Cousin Garrett repeated over and over, “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…”  I thought for a moment, “Maybe this was a bad idea.  We’re going to traumatize this kid.”  I don’t mind traumatizing my own kids, but this one isn’t even mine!  Fortunately, after the first few plunges and dives, he was starting to smile and after we got off the ride, they both were ready to go again.  Roller coaster converts!

For those of us coaster lovers, why do we enjoy them?  Why do we risk our lives on an amusement park ride?  After all, haven’t people died on these things?  Obviously it’s the thrill factor!  We like the change in speed, the change in attitude as we go up and down and sometime upside down and we love the changes in altitude as we experience the rapid highs and lows.  But perhaps the biggest thrill is from the Space Mountain-style unknown as we first experience a new coaster.

As thrilling and exciting as the ride may be, none of us would climb on board one of these crazy machines without a lot of trust!  The reason you would trust your life to such a ride is that you know it has been designed and certified by an engineer who created it for your entertainment and with your best interests in mind.  Seriously, if your next door neighbor threw up a coaster in his backyard and invited you over for a ride, are you going to get on?  No way will you find me getting on a home-made backyard coaster and I have engineer-types for neighbors!  You trust the trained experienced designers and you observe from those who precede you that the ride is safe.

Would it surprise you to know that your life, as “roller coastery” as it may be also benefits from design?  I believe the designer of life has a plan for you and for your life and God’s plan includes the highs and the lows.  The question of why life has lows at all is a very complex question and goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the choice that Adam and Eve made to sin and every subsequent human has affirmed with their own decisions.  I’ll leave that deepest of all considerations for another Intersections series.  Since we inherited a life of physical, emotional and spiritual ups-n-downs from Adam and Eve, God has chosen to use our challenging lives to make us better people.  I have found in my life that the very best features and the scariest moments of the ride are there for His purposes.  I believe in everything the designer has our best interests in mind when he designed the ride of life!

Read what Paul has to say in Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I believe God has designed life for three main purposes we see highlighted in this scripture.

  • He designed life to reinforce our dependence on Him and to help us persevere
  • He designed life to strengthen our character and prepare us for a role in His Kingdom
  • He designed life to give us a sense of perspective and hope rather than a sense of hopelessness and chaos

Over the next few weeks I will explore some examples from the lives of Bible heroes and share some of my own experiences and the experiences of some dear friends as we study this concept of “A Roller Coaster Life by Design.”  Perhaps you are currently experiencing one of those scary low points on the coaster where you like Cousin Garrett feel like screaming out “I hate this, I hate this!”  If so, I pray this series will be a comfort to you.  If you are flying high on the loopty-loop section, I ask that you praise God for his providence in your life.  Regardless of your point on the ride of life, I hope you enjoy this series with me as we think about God’s design for our lives.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Previous Intersections Articles

Going Viral (Part 3) Going Viral (Part 2) Going Viral (Part 1)


  1. Thanks for that Mike! Very excited to look for more of the same. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about David lately, who as you know, had some deep lows and amazing high’s…and through all of his success, failure, mistakes and sin, he never turned away from God. You are a great encouragement, like David. Safe travels home!

  2. Just to say I love reading your “intersections”. I don’t think at present that
    my life is like a roller coaster, perhaps I have been there and done that.
    At my age I don’t think I could handle the ups and downs.

    Hope you return home safely.

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