I really love running– but not the athletic kind. The emotional kind. I like running away from my problems. I run away from my anxieties, failed expectation, family stress, and broken relationships. A close friend labelled them as “avoidance schemes” and I’ve used many different ones throughout my life. When I was young I couldn’t deal with the stress of my parents’ divorce. And so I dove into the world of books and fantasy. In university, when I was faced with roommate/relationship conflict, I would literally run away– take off into the night. There have been a few times where I ended up leaving the country, seeking to escape from a broken heart and anxiety back home. Running away had become such a normal part of my life that I didn’t realize how deeply rooted it was. Until recently.
Three months ago, two close friends died a day apart: one ended his long battle with leukemia and the other was killed in a tragic car accident. Following this, a relationship with a guy ended that devastated me. I couldn’t deal with the grief in my heart, the brokenness that I felt, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything except go through the motions of life. I felt isolated, lonely, and even avoided my friends because I didn’t know how to communicate what was happening inside me.
On the outside, everything appeared fine; but on the inside, I was a wreck. Every night I would get home from work and I dived into my television shows. The trashier the show, the better. It was me running away. It was my escape. It was all I did.
Running away from my problems felt good in the moment because it simply filled my desire to numb my pain. I felt overwhelmed with what was happening around me: I had no control. In those moments of anxiety I wanted to forget the pain. But when I chose to escape my problems, it actually made it harder for my heart to heal and move on. Running away never resolved my problems. It only grew my frustration, anger and bitterness. I was so focused on my circumstances that I didn’t realize I was stuck in a pit of self-pity and despair. Let me tell you. Whoever said “time heals all things” probably spoke too soon. That doesn’t happen. In fact, things only got worse.
Have you seen the movie “Forrest Gump”? There’s this scene in it where Forrest runs for 3 years 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. He tells you that he doesn’t know why he started running. He just felt like it. But if you watch the movie, you know why he runs. He had just told Jenny, the childhood love of his life, that he loved her, and asked her to marry him. Jenny, for some weird reason, replied “no”. If I had just told the love of my life to marry me and they rejected me, I would probably want to run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours too. Running makes sense. Running feels good. But it doesn’t help in the grand scheme of things.
I realized that in those moments of pain when I chose escape, what I was really looking for was rest and peace. I needed rest from the uncertainty and lack of control that seemed to consume me. I needed peace from the pain and isolation inside me.
It wasn’t until I stopped choosing to run away from my pain and confronted what I was going through that I started to find that rest and peace that I was running after. I stopped believing the lie that drowning myself with TV every night was helping me. I stopped wearing a mask of perfection and started being honest with myself and others about the brokenness inside me. I started to learn that I can’t heal myself by running away. I realized that to find rest and peace I needed to start placing my focus and hope outside of myself and my circumstances. I started to realize that I couldn’t get this rest and peace on my own.
When I looked for healing outside of myself, my circumstances started to change. I opened up to my friends who, it turns out, were worried about me. I found people that I could trust and be vulnerable with. I found a loving and accepting community that I found joy in. I prayed. I rejoiced in the little things, like nature or the warm feeling of the sun on my face despite a terribly cold winter.
There were still moments when the pain was very real, but my heart was healing. Seven terrible days in a week, turned into four. Which turned into two, and eventually one. I saw change in my life and in the relationships around me. I was able to remember and cherish the memories that I had with my friends that had passed. I was able to let go of that guy who had rejected me. My heart was full of peace, and I had found rest. It wasn’t a peace inside me. It was a peace that I had to find outside of myself. A peace far better than any other that I could find.