Not Just for Cookies

It’d be nice to say that the only reason I run is because I like to eat cookies. It’d be nice to say that I run because I’m passionate about fitness and health and well-being and all those trendy things.

Truth is: I don’t just run for cookies.

The reality is that running has become part of my cure for depression and anxiety. This has been a struggle of mine for several years, but I have only recently acknowledged it and begun working through it.

I think a common misperception of depression is that Christians shouldn’t “get” this condition, because we’re supposed to have the joy of the Lord–and joy should kill all the negativity crap, right?

However, I believe that joy is spiritual. I believe that joy is the irresistible reaction to the glory of God in our life. And I believe it is possible to have joy in depression–even when there are no positive, happy-ish hormones that allow us to physically “feel” joyful.

As a Christian, this can be terribly frustrating. The majority of this year I’ve struggled with wanting to “feel” joy and to “feel” positive and alive, and even somewhat happy. I could “feel” angry and confused and be overwhelmed by other troublesome feelings, but not happy. Not joyful, as I assumed joyful should feel.

What I’ve been learning this year is that I have several negative habits which can sabotage my perception of joy.

The first one deals with anger.

Last month I read a book by Chip Ingram and Becca Johnson, entitled “Overcoming Emotions That Destroy”. I never considered myself to have an anger problem, but as I flew through the chapters I learned that anger often masks other emotions that we are unwilling to deal with: emotions such as feeling hurt or embarrassed.

The authors explained how anger is like the red engine light that comes on in your car–it indicates that there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

As I began sorting through those problems, I began realizing that I “felt” less angry, and as time progressed I realized how much energy I had been wasting on anger, which masked other problems, and no wonder I didn’t have any room (or energy) to “feel” anything else!

Dealing with some of my buried issues has also brought me closer to God. For instance, if I feel disappointed in a person or a situation, I can choose to take my hurt feelings to God and have Him bandage me up, or I can scoop up those same feelings and try to heal myself. But instead of healing, I usually end up feeling resentful towards the other person, and then towards God, and then I have a rift in two relationships.

But back to depression.

I’m not saying that all depression is a result of sin. I think it can be, and I think God can use that to get our attention–but I know that’s not always the case. Sometimes depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, and the hormones in one’s brain just aren’t kicking out the endorphins and happy waves at high enough levels. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of dietary supplements like the B-vitamins or fish oil. (Yum, right?)

So I’ve been dealing with depression in several ways.

First, I began seeing a counselor who has been wonderfully helpful. This puts me in a setting where I am reminded that this is a condition many people deal with–and overcome.

Second, I’ve been reminded of the importance of focusing on God: His character and His word. Listening to only Christ-centered music really helps with this, too, as it constantly re-directs me back to Him, even if only sub-consciously.

Third, I run. I still dislike running–in fact, I am probably more passionate about how much I dislike it more than I like it, but despite my complaints I still go. For me, it gives me the extra chemical boost to feel like I’m not in perpetual hibernation. It also provides a physical metaphor to remind me that I am stronger than how I think or how I “feel”. It reminds me that even when I “feel” like quitting, I don’t have to quit.

And as I improve, I am continually amazed at the faithfulness of God and how He never changes. Despite our weaknesses and doubts, despite our unfounded anger at Him, He still remains our source of strength, of hope, and of joy.

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