Fighting for Joy

I have a really bad memory, truly. I remember being at church during my sophomore year of college after a year and half long hiatus. It was a time when I was meeting new people and learning to stand firm in this new identity as a true Jesus-following human. This girl came up to me and immediately asked if I was in fact, myself. I quickly said yes and got that horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know someone remembers you and you have no idea who they are.

She introduced herself as Kira and shared with me that she thinks I played soccer with her on a team in elementary school. After racking my brain, I found a sliver of a memory and realized that she was my long lost friend Kira from the fifth grade! Kira is now one of my greatest allies and she seriously has a memory like an elephant (is that the right metaphor?) She remembers the most specific and obscure memories and rehashes them often, as I look on, completely dumbfounded. I love Kira for this.

So I have this terrible memory. I don’t remember a lot, it’s pretty insane. Especially when I’m put on the spot, I have a really hard time thinking of memories that apply to different things.  The paranoid side of my brain says that maybe I’m hiding some deep-seeded issue, like I don’t store memories for fear that rehashing them will cause me pain because I secretly think I am in some way lacking in my current life.  Like I said, paranoid.  It is funny though, how I’ve retained a lot of bad memories and I have to dig to bring up the really good ones.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about a memory that I have retained and it’s so trivial! I have this vivid memory of lying in my bed; I was probably a freshman in high school in that phase of life where self-awareness hits like a ton of bricks. I remember earlier that week I had caught wind of a party where lots of girls were going to be, lots of popular girls, lots of boys that I liked, and it was a party with all of the people that I was kind-of-almost-sort of friends with. It’s that group in high school you’re never really sure you’re a part of, I probably could have been if I wasn’t so insecure and fearful, but I held back so as to not annoy or overwhelm (thanks middle child syndrome).

It was a weekend night I remember, and I was just lying in my bed crying and looking out the window and thinking about how much fun everyone was having without me. I hadn’t been formally invited and I was too afraid to take the plunge and just show up, even though it was unlikely anyone would really care. As I lay there, I though to myself – this is exhausting. I’m miserable. I think I was probably one of the most self-aware high school freshmen ever, but I knew in that moment what this comparison game was costing me. It was stealing my joy.

So I had this ‘come to Jesus’ moment alone in my bed, crying, and I made a vow to myself, which I remember clear as day. I made a promise that I was going to choose joy. It’s so cliché and I really do hate hackneyed phrases, but that became my mantra: choose joy.

Years later, I’m finding myself back in that place where I’m having to ‘choose joy’. On those days when I’m driving alone in my car and my eyes feel heavy and I don’t want to do anything and my pride keeps me from reaching out, I begin my mantra but now it’s just simply ‘joy’. I say it to myself over and over.

For years, I think I tried to find joy in people and I tried to convince myself out of feeling sadness. Why would I feel sad when my family is wonderful? Why would I feel lonely when I have an incredible community looking to me for direction? Why would I feel hopeless when I have made so much progress in just a few short years?

Depression can’t answer those questions in a productive way; they bounce off like rubber. Joy needs to be sourced from something deeper and more sustainable. It needs to come from a fountain that doesn’t run out and where we don’t need to fear rejection, somewhere abundant and alive.

Back in high school, and for so many years after, I tried to trick my way in to having joy. I tried to fill up my life with friends and stuff and hobbies to manipulate my way out of feeling sad and lonely. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve been able to see just how useless that effort really is and how much closer joy is than I ever thought.

This new source of joy is emerging and it’s so simple, yet profound. It’s this realization that I am likable and worthy and enough, not because of what I’ve accomplished or who I am but because of who I let Jesus be for me.  I let him be my savior. I’m not saying that depression can be solved with a mantra and the awareness of salvation; I think it can be deeper, chemical even and meds are very helpful. I’ve seen meds save the lives of people I love deeply.

All I’m saying is this: the source of my joy has shifted and it’s helping. It’s getting easier to pull myself out of the droopy eyes, no motivation, suffocating, hopeless dark places that I find myself in.

Today I went for a run and my goal was to run seven miles. I got turned around at 3.2 miles out, due to a closed bridge. This is the literal worst because it means I have to backtrack in order to hit my goal on the way back to my car. I had to turn around to cover more distance three different times and audibly groaned each time. That’s what it feels like to battle these dark pitfalls.

I have to let out an audible groan and go deep inside my soul to dig out that feeling I know is there: I am likable, I am enough, I am good.  Jesus saved me, he set me free.

It is for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

-RD

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