By The Rev. Jeremy Myers
The Elkhart County Fair was one of the highlights of my summer every year as I was growing up.
Much like our Jackson County Fair, my hometown fair is exceptionally large and includes a substantial midway with a large number of rides. Again, much like Jackson County, there were various times and days when one could purchase a wristband to ride the rides ad nauseam (at the time, it was only $5 a person). In my young mind, the county fair was basically an amusement park, and I loved it.
The first ride every year, however, was a mixed bag of feelings for me. To this day, when I visit an amusement park, there are equal feelings of anticipation, excitement and a good deal of fear that breakfast will come back for a visit.
One year, the fear got the best of me. My sister and brother, who are two and five years younger than I, all ran for the first ride we found once we entered the midway. I don’t remember the name of the ride, but much like every ride at a fair midway, it spun around in a circle really fast.
The three of us got on the ride with my sister and me on either side of our little brother. The ride operator came by to make sure we were buckled in and that the bar was secure over our laps.
Soon thereafter, my sister decided she no longer wanted to ride the ride, so the man came back and let her out. As we sat and waited for the ride to start, my mind began to fixate on the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I began to squirm in my seat a little as the anxiety continued to crescendo.
At the last minute, just as the ride began to creep forward, I threw off my seat belt, wiggled free of the bar and jumped off of the ride and left my little brother to face the ride by himself.
When I got to my parents, who were watching in horror as my brother was being twisted and twirled and swung around the empty seat like a rag doll, they asked me, “What were you thinking?” My answer? “I want off this ride.”
In recent days, I have found myself expressing that very same sentiment both early and often. Perhaps you have found yourself thinking similarly. As I consider the veritable roller coaster ride of the past two years, I have moments where the discomfort of the moment or the anticipation of what lies just ahead has caused me to literally say, “I want off this ride. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
I’m tired of the cycles of uncertainty. I’m tired of the hostility and division. I’m tired of the tension between friends and family and the constant worry that expressing my thoughts, even if biblically substantiated, could set off an explosive argument.
I’m tired of trying to do the right thing and being treated like I’m not only wrong but ignorant. I’m tired of the sickness that continues to rise and fall in our community and in my congregation. I’m tired of masks and social distancing (though I understand why we’re using them).
I’m tired of hostility toward masks and social distancing (the irony isn’t lost on me). I’m annoyed. I’m uncomfortable. I’m discouraged. I’m just tired. And I want off of this ride.
As I was feeling the frustration a few days ago, I began to think of Jesus in the garden as he was preparing to go to the cross. He knew the hardship and discomfort of the experience that lay before him. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
That sounds an awful lot like a first century approximation of “I want off this ride,” but Jesus didn’t jump off and leave us to suffer on our own. Rather, he submitted his desires to the father’s plan. He put his preferences and needs to the side in order to provide for ours. He endured an exceedingly undesirable and undeserved experience for our good.
As the words of Jesus resonated in my heart and mind, it is as if Jesus told me, “I’ve been there. You can do this.”
There are experiences in life that are less than pleasant — experiences that require more strength, courage and perseverance than we think we have. The past two years have continued to stretch us to and, at times, beyond our breaking point.
It is tempting in the midst of all of the discomfort, division and uncertainty to retreat and to withdraw from the world around us, but we need to fight that urge. Our presence in the world has purpose. Our engagement with others and our contribution to what’s happening in the world matters.
None of us are alone in this struggle. We may be facing and carrying it in different ways, but there’s plenty of company in this particular misery. We need to buckle up, hold on tight and patiently endure the ride.
In the end, I believe it can make us better. Or at a minimum, it will give us an opportunity to love others better in the same way Jesus loved us.