I have so much I want to say – about how I think raising a big family is easier than a small one, and the powerful ways our theology ripples through our lives, how I don’t know what it means to trust God anymore and how, in a few weeks, I will get to post a link to a story I cannot WAIT to share. There’s so much for us to talk about, friends, but I come to this space and I stare at the blinking cursor.
Because since the last post, I’ve felt sad.
For me, sadness doesn’t look like hiding under the covers and staying in my pajamas. I don’t cry in my coffee (I save that for the car) and I don’t drink too much wine. For me, sadness looks like distraction. Like staring at my phone while dinner is on the stove, and my kid repeating himself three times before I realize he’s talking to me. It looks like forgetting to schedule dentist appointments (again). Like making breakfast for dinner three nights in a week because it didn’t dawn on me to thaw meat, and even when it did, the task just didn’t seem that important.
It also looks like feeling overwhelmed. Like socks on the floor and ninja turtles in a bedroom corner have suddenly become an emergency we all must rectify immediately, and why am I the only one who knows how to hang up a towel? It looks like sitting at a conference room table and my boss asking, “What are your ideas?” and me drawing a total blank. Ideas? I have no ideas. I made it to the meeting. That’s my contribution. Today, that’s all I’ve got.
For me, sadness looks a lot like depression.
Only, I’m not depressed. I’m sad. Which makes a lot of people uncomfortable – myself included.
Depression sounds easier, right? Depression is about brain chemicals. We have a prescription for that. We know what to do when people are depressed. But sad … our culture doesn’t have much tolerance for sadness. What do we do when the people around us are grieving? What do we do with ourselves when we’re sad?
We can numb with social media or food or alcohol. We can over clean or yell at our kids or leave dinner burning on the stove. But none of that helps.
When any emotion overwhelms me, the only thing I have ever found that works is exercise.
That wasn’t what you were expecting, right? We’re told to pray. To serve others, to read Psalms, to talk to a professional. All of that is good, and I am not disagreeing with it. But the only thing I’ve found to actually change how I feel in the moment is exercise.
I ride my bike and all that sadness I’ve pushed down into my gut bubbles up. It is no longer a vague irritation or flatness or uncertainty. Instead, as I get outside and move my body, the deeper emotion is suddenly in sharp focus. I’m sad! Look at that, I’m sad today. That’s what’s wrong with me.
Once I see what it is, I can name it. I can say out loud how I feel. I can yell at the clouds and speak the truth I dull the rest of the time. Most of the time, we avoid because we don’t want that onslaught of emotion. But here’s my secret: when I say it out loud while I’m riding my bike, that emotion has somewhere to go. I can expel it. Out through my legs and feet, it becomes the energy I need to get up the next hill. I can shout it to the clouds and now it’s real – it’s out there – out of my clenched chest, and out into the sky. I can take all of that negative energy and turn it into fuel to go just a little bit further. I can leave it all on the pavement, outside of myself, where it belongs.
When I’m done, I’m spent. But I’m also less sad.
Exercise doesn’t mean I won’t need to do the same tomorrow. Sadness, like a hunger, is only satiated for so long.
But when I exercise, it doesn’t eat me up. It doesn’t twist my life or my mind or my relationships in directions I don’t want them to go. It doesn’t define my day – either feeling it, or trying not to. And it can’t infect me. I’m sad right now because I should be. I’m walking through something hard, and it is right and good and normal to grieve it. But I don’t want this season of grief to define my whole life. I refuse to become a bitter, hardened, angry person. Bitterness grows when sadness becomes infected.
Every time I ride my bike, I am doing something positive and concrete to avoid bitterness.
Yes, I am sad right now. And it feels weird and uncomfortable for me and for everyone around me. But I have a secret weapon. It won’t keep me from feeling sad, but it will keep me from staying that way forever. When I don’t have focus or perspective or certainty or patience, I know one thing for certain: it’s time to ride my bike again.