Flatten The Rollercoaster

Pastor Craig led us through the seventh strategy in our series on a Christian’s mental health. Here is the recap he shared on his blog, and be sure to scroll down to watch the video of the full message.

I’m not a fan of rollercoasters, but I know a lot of people who really like them. Some even travel all over the world to experience unique rollercoasters. The anticipation as the cars climb slowly up the big hill, knowing that there’s no stopping this thing now! Then the rush of emotions, a deep breath and a laugh at the end (usually laughing at our friends’ responses while on the ride), and then we just walk away. The moment of anticipation leading up to the big drop was usually longer and more intense than the ride itself. 

Not only do people travel all over to find rollercoasters, some people seem to have their emotions perpetually on rollercoasters. 

One of the telltale signs of someone with an immature mental health is the way every situation gets blown out of proportion before anything even happens. Then as an event unfolds, their exaggerations continue: the molehills are mountains, every valley is the valley of the shadow of death, the night is a nightmare, the “crisis” is lasting forever, no one has ever gone through what they’re going through, and the list goes on. 

To break out of this habit requires us developing emotional capacity. John Maxwell describes it like this: “Emotional capacity is the ability to handle adversity, failure, criticism, change, and pressure in a positive way.” Just as athletes have to develop lung capacity or muscle capacity, developing emotional capacity takes time, patience, and diligence. 

Increased emotional capacity is not escaping from our problems or even learning coping skill. Escapism never allows us to confront the things that are keeping our emotional capacity immature. On the other hand, maturing emotional capacity is learning to pause to get perspective so that we can avoid turning every mountain into a molehill, and every challenge into a do-or-die battle.  

Mentally healthy people don’t try to escape, but they learn how to de-escalate by getting a new perspective. Or to use the language of our first mental health strategy, they get off their old, well-worn paths. 

Let me illustrate this by looking at two emotions which seem to be the most rollercoaster-ish. 

(1) The first rollercoaster emotion is anger 

Out-of-proportion anger can either burn everyone around us when we explode, or it can eat away inside us if we hold it in. Neither of these are healthy emotional responses. Jesus got angry at the religious crowd that was keeping people away from God’s kingdom, but He didn’t ride the rollercoaster that led to a sinful expression of His anger. 

God asked Jonah a very helpful question: Have you any right to be angry? (Jonah 4:4). When we feel the Holy Spirit asking us this question, our defiant first response is almost always, “Yes! I didn’t do anything wrong! It was all him!” Solomon would counsel us to cross-examine that thought (Proverbs 18:17). 

Sometimes God will bring someone else across our path to help us pause to get perspective—to flatten the rollercoaster. For instance, God used Abigail to help David (see the story in 1 Samuel 25). However the Holy Spirit cross-examines us, we need to learn to truly listen. James told us: 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

(2) The second rollercoaster emotion is fear 

Fear usually causes us to fight or flight. Those are the natural responses, but the supernatural response is to pause to evaluate. I love the reminder that F.E.A.R. means false evidence appearing real

As with anger, our first pause to get perspective on this potential rollercoaster that can plunge us into a deep, dark valley should be to cross-examine the false evidence of fear. 

When the group of ladies came to the tomb of Jesus on the Sunday following His crucifixion, they were already battered and bruised in their emotions. Finding an empty tomb brought even more fear in their hearts. But there is a keyword in this account that will help us: 

In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men [angels] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered His words. (Luke 24:5-8)

The Holy Spirit can help us remember the truth in God’s Word to counteract the fear-inducing false evidence (2 Timothy 1:7; John 14:26), but we must pause to listen to this evidence before this rollercoaster emotion picks up speed. 

The bottom line: Don’t try to escape your strong emotions. Pause. Cross-examine the evidence with the help of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and a friend to get a healthy perspective. This can help you flatten the rollercoaster before your emotions run away with you. 

If you’ve missed any of the other mental health strategies we’ve already covered in this series, you can find the full list by clicking here