The Ride of Your Life

How much do you have invested in your “lifestyle”? Think you aren’t “rich and famous” enough to have a “lifestyle”? Think again:

– Do you have a home you take pride and comfort in? … How much of your income goes into that home: paying a mortgage, purchasing new flooring or repairing old plumbing?

– Do you keep a relatively green, growing lawn and perhaps a flower bed or two? … How many Saturday afternoons have you invested in mowing, weeding, planting and sweating over them?

– Do you enjoy golfing, tennis, or skiing? … How much of your energy have you given to perfecting your sport-skills, finding the right equipment, locating just the place to play and commuting back and forth to it?

– Do you count your career’s success as the definition of your personal success? … How many evenings, weekends and holidays have you given over to advancing your career? How many times have you opted for a late night at the office instead of a night out on the town? How many birthdays, anniversaries or vacations have you missed in order to get more “work done”?

We all choose to invest in some sort of lifestyle. Only the degree of investment and the ratio of real life-substance to empty lifestyle varies. The challenge we are faced with is whether we are investing in life-substance or just settling for lifestyle.

Authors Steven Carter and Julia Sokol talk about four different rides through life that many people are choosing as their lifestyle journey. They designate these four “rides” as either 1. a slide, 2. a treadmill, 3. a roller coaster, or 4. an escalator. Can you find yourself in one of these descriptions?

First, the downward slide. We know all about downward mobility. At times things grow so gloomy it seems as if someone turned off the light at the other end of the tunnel. Even though we did everything we could, we still feel cheated. We feel set up by the very system we have invested in. Like the character in a Frank and Ernest cartoon: “The boss said I was a cornerstone of this organization, and then I found out they were cutting corners.” When we’re on the downward slide, we aren’t rewarded as we think fit. Consequently, over the years, we “sliders” increasingly see no reason to invest ourselves in anyone or anything. We let the pull of gravity guide our lives and our attitudes – dragging us down ever closer to the bottom of the slide, the end of the ride.

Second, there’s the treadmill. We are always exhausted but fear slowing down for fear of losing ground. So we shortchange those closest to us. We can’t even fit in the exercise or diet we need. Like a treadmill, this ride never really gets anywhere – up or down. On the treadmill we expend all our energy just so we can safely stay in one place.

Third, there’s the roller coaster. One minute we’re high (with life, with work, with God). The next minute we’re plunged down low. One minute we’re “on top of the world.” The next minute we’re on skid row. Our body says it can’t keep up, but we ignore it. We don’t like routines – they’re too dull and deadly. Gamblers by nature, we love the fast track – we say we like pressure. Do we like the ulcers, migraines and high blood pressure as well?

Fourth, there’s the escalator. Despite success, we can’t stop. We keep on upping the ante in our lives. We never feel financially comfortable – no matter how much we have. We have no life outside of work. In both our time and our finances, we are leveraged to the hilt. Unlike those on the roller coaster, we just keep climbing and climbing as the pressure escalates, the work load increases, the debts skyrocket. We are the group most driven to accomplish “something” – but can never enjoy those things we do accomplish. We see success as always in our future, never in our present moment.

The author of 1 Peter reminds the Gentile Christians struggling to form a community of faith in the midst of a foreign land that their ancestors’ ways were “futile.” He insists that his readers have been “ransomed” from these fruitless, futile, pagan lifestyles through the supreme gift of Christ’s “precious blood.”

You and I are offered the same way out from our futile attempts at creating meaning and “success” in our lives. Jesus’ gift of a redeemed life can stop the downward slide, transform the treadmill into a purposeful pathway, add steadiness to the roller coaster and give the uncontrolled escalator a final destination.

The real problem with getting on the slide, treadmill, roller coaster or escalator is that these are all rides we try to control with our own agenda and keep under our own power. Jesus offers to take us on another kind of ride altogether – a ride where we are empowered by our “trust in God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead and gave him glory” (1 Peter 1:21). Instead of those dead-end lifestyle rides, Jesus offers to take us on a trip as exhilarating and exciting as a white-water rafting ride.

I remember going on my first rafting trip on the Arkansas River while on a visit to Colorado. The rafting company had “Five Rules for White-Water Rafting.” These rules can also guide Christians who are searching for the best way to stay afloat in an unfriendly culture. They can easily be adapted and used as spiritual guides for having the ride of your life with Jesus.

Number one: Go with the flow – and don’t get addled. Our son, Hamilton, fell out of his raft at one point during the journey, but he remembered to just go with the flow. It wasn’t easy, though, since there were plenty of rocks just below the surface that nicked him along the way. But his fellow raft-mates kept an eye on him and were able to finally pull him back onto the raft at an opportune time. Hamilton knew he would eventually be retrieved from the water.

No matter how swift the current grows or how meandering the course may seem in life, Jesus never loses track of us. When we know Jesus sets both the course and the current in our lives, Christians can relax and feel confident about the ultimate outcome of their journey.

Number two: Lean into the rocks. Rocks can be your friends. Obstacles, apparently threatening and dangerous, also provide the force that moves us along. While it was initially scary to bang directly into the rocks on the Arkansas River, it was amazing to see how the impact helped propel us even more swiftly down the stream. By leaning into the rocks, instead of frantically trying to paddle away from them, the guiding current can more swiftly and efficiently navigate your raft safely past the threats and fears. In life, our instinct is to shy away from problems, but often it is best to meet them head-on and solve them, rather than avoid them.

You may even get stuck on the rocks for a while.  That happened to my raft. It required some movement and creativity on the part of the riders, but we eventually cleared the rocks and started moving forward again.  Sometimes that happens in life as well.  You often need to rely on your fellow riders, your friends and family and colleagues, to help you get off the rocks.

Number three: When you go into turbulence, go feet first but toes out. When you fail, fail forward and fail fast. Don’t be afraid of failure. Our failures are best seen, not as exercises in “trial and error,” but “trial and success.”  And don’t stay stuck in failure.  Learn from it and move along.

Number four: If worse comes to worst, let go of everything, and eventually you’ll come up. Our life rafts, our human-created flotation devices, aren’t the only things that can float. If you completely tip over, don’t struggle to find the boat. Remember you can float, too – and let the water carry you to the surface. Our son found that out when he fell out of his raft. Once you are up and breathing again, then you can worry about finding something else to hang on to.

Number five: You’re here because of the thrill. So enjoy it! Life isn’t designed to be a predictable, safe course. If it were, none of us would want to go on it. When you are out of control, the ride can become terrifying. But when you let Jesus be in control, not even the wildest stretch of white water should be feared – only enjoyed.

When I was on that rafting trip on the Arkansas, I had absolutely no idea what was coming up around each bend. But I trusted that the guide in our raft did and that he would know what to do along the way.  Life is like that.  We don’t know what is coming, but we do know that Jesus can guide us through it.  So relax – and enjoy life.

One person has said that the perfect spring day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.

God wants us to enjoy living. Calvin Klein offers us a lifestyle. Jesus Christ offers us a life-substance. The gospels challenge us to give up lifestyle for life-substance. In a Christian life-substance, you can stop white-knuckling your way through life. So go through life white-water rafting with Jesus instead.

For only Jesus can give you the ride of your life.