I’ve been under a LOT of stress lately. Like most child abuse survivors, I also deal with many traumatic after-effects. The stress has really built up over the last couple of days and I keep turning to God and complaining. ‘Lord, I’m SO uptight I don’t know what to do. What should I DO? Any ideas?’ Now that’s just what I call being open and if I think of something after I ask such questions I usually give the thing I thought of a try. It’s only fair. In case you are wondering, the thing I thought of was, ‘you really ought to go running’.
Just so you know, I don’t like running. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it. I suppose if I kept it up enough to really acclimate to it I would enjoy it, but I am a stop-and-start breed of runner. I seem to run just often enough so that it feels like I shouldn’t be running when I am and feels like I should be running when I’m not. So the idea of ‘starting’ running again didn’t really go over too well with me. Regardless, I gave it a try and I’m glad I did. Anyone struggling with post traumatic stress, traumatic stress, or just the stress of life in general can benefit greatly from exercise. I know and I have.
When a person experiences severe trauma, such as fearing for their life, over a long period of time their body is permanently changed and produces a baseline level of stress hormones that is well above normal. This high level of chemicals can create chaos in one’s body and is not beneficial for anything except super strength when fighting for or running for your life. But when it’s not used up in that way it needs to be burned off through strenuous exercise. Unfortunately, when I feel stressed, exercise is the last thing I’d like to do. But this afternoon I tried it anyway, and as usual I feel a lot better now.
I am not a serious runner. A mile and a half to two miles seems just about the right distance for me and I go very slowly. For a while I tried to run pi miles but I gave it up because it was irrational (bu-dum-bum). Once (and only once) I ran a race. It was a couple of years ago. My town offered a brand new five mile race. Up to that point I had never run more than two miles, but I thought I’d like to try it. I figured five miles is like going two miles (which I already knew I could do) and going two miles again (if I could do it once it seemed like I could do it twice) and then going a little more. How hard could that be? So I signed up.
When I showed up at the starting line I wondered if I had made a mistake. There were some real serious runners there. One guy said he ran the three and a half miles from his house to the park as a warm-up. These people actually seemed stressed out about how they were going to perform. It kinda made me happy because I knew my performance would help them feel better about theirs. Anyway, I faked a couple of stretches by discreetly copying the real runners and waited for the starting pistol to fire. When it did I set off and before long I was behind the pack in a cloud of dust. After a while it got where I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, but once in a while I saw people quit. That made me feel good about myself. The way I count it, I BEAT those guys! After two or three miles a police car pulled alongside me. The officer rolled down the window and hollered something out. I didn’t want to break my stride so I yelled back, ‘WHUA?’ He repeated himself, but I still didn’t hear him. So he stopped the cruiser and leaned halfway out the window and yelled out at the top of his voice ‘ARE – YOU – OKAY???’ Let me tell you, THAT was embarassing! I told him I was fine thank you very much and kept on running with my head held high (but my face even redder if that was possible!)
The coolest thing happened when I finished. I got up to the finish line and saw this enormous sign keeping the time. I won’t tell you what my time was because some real runners might be reading this and I don’t want you to choke or spit soda on your keyboard. But here’s the thing. There was a group of random wonderful people I had never met sitting on some bleachers waiting for … well … ME! They were cheering! ‘Good Job!’ ‘Congratulations!’ ‘You MADE it!!’ I didn’t understand where they had come from or why they were there, but I felt so thankful for their kindness! I didn’t know them, there wasn’t a single familiar face, but they waited, they cheered and (I admit it), I cried with joy!
Experiences like that remind me that I belong to something. That we’re all connected somehow. If it’s true in running, it’s true in humanity and it’s especially true in the spiritual universe. I believe we ALL have a cheering section. We may not know who they are, but I believe they are out there waiting for us and cheering us on.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
If you’re struggling today, don’t lose heart! Run your race with your head held high. Joy is just ahead of you. I promise!