Earlier this week I had the opportunity to photography Lighthouse Event’s Snowball Shootout 10k race. It was a dream course for a photographer. The start line, one mile mark, 3.1 mile turn around spot, 4.1 mile mark, and finish line were within one hundred feet of each other. You could shoot the start, walk fifty feet, shot the runners reaching the one mile mark, turn around and capture those finishing the first loop, turn back around and catch them as they came completed the first four miles. I was standing on a piece of ice, pivoting back and forth for most the race. When the runners started coming into the finish, you simply walked fifty feet back and capture them crossing the finish line. From one spot you got to see runners going multiple ways. Most races are not that convenient. Generally, I can capture the start of the race and then the three mile turn around and the finish of the race.
Capturing pictures of the runners at the one mile mark gave me a revelation. (Small seemingly unimportant one, but still a revelation.) Runners are much more likely to smile and look happy for the camera at the one mile mark than anywhere else during the race, except the finish line. They will smile again as they cross the finish line and are finished with the race. There are the rare exceptions who will smile at the three mile mark, and the four mile mark, and the five mile mark, but they are few and far between. These are elite athletes to whom a 10k is a walk in the park and an easy day or they are those who barely qualify for athletes and likely never call themselves that but just have a good attitude because they are out there doing this and are grateful they can and know that they are never going to medal anyways so we might as well have fun, or they are the few middle of the pack runners who are just of a cheerful disposition to begin with. Whatever group the smilers fall into they are the minority, a very small minority.
This got me thinking. Throughout the Bible the Christian life is compared to a race. Paul talks about not having run in vain and finishing his course with joy. I always connected with those analogies. Our Christian life is very much like a race and I think during it we can be very much like runners. We find Christ and start off down the course full of joy and happiness. The first mile is easy-peasy. We are doing great and smiling for the camera. Then it gets hard. I mean really hard. Somedays you think you might be dying, you can’t breath, you are hurting, you are facing an uphill climb, you feel like everything is on fire, who knows what it may be but it gets hard, the Bible says it is going to (1 Peter 4:12). Some months stretch out in long boring monotony. Everything seems to stay the same. We get discouraged that we have only reached mile two and still have four miles to run.
During these times, I fear many of us lose our joy. We no longer smile. It is no longer smooth sailing. We are like racers who have gotten past the first mile and start feeling the length of the race and forget to smile and have fun. Finally, after what may be years of toil we come to see the finish line in distance and remember our joy again, remember the One who is waiting for us and calling to us. Perhaps this is because we have matured enough to have joy even when everything is screaming in anguish. Whatever the case. we smile again.
That is typical of the Christians I have seen and my own life. I know far to often I forget to be filled with the joy of the Lord and forget to show that joy but am focused on the hardness of the run. Sure, there are people out there who are “elite” Christians full of joy, and there are those who have gone so deep into sin that they barely feel worthy of the name Christian but know joy because they know where they could have been, and there are some “average” Christians who have joy either because they know something the rest of us do not or are just naturally of a cheery disposition. There are those people. I am not one of them. But this does not excuse me from being joyful in all times of life.
You see, that revelation I had earlier translates very nicely in the Christian life and I was struck by the fact that I am like most runners. I had joy, but I do not always have it now. Yet, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Psalms 16:11 says that joy comes from being in God’s presence. Thus, I am led to conclude that if I do not have joy I am not staying in God’s presence and being filled with His Spirit. That is not a conclusion I like. Thus, I started thinking about having joy all the time. I came up with four ideas.
1. Do not neglect God’s presence. Psalm 16:11 says “In thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Be in God’s presence and you will be full of joy. Start the day out in His presence, look for signs that He is presence every moment, and end the day thanking Him for being there.
2. Reframe problems as positives. This could take a whole blog post itself. Recently, I have been learning about how the brain handles emotions and problems. We can either see things in the negatively light and have not so nice consequences or we can train our minds to reframe bad situations as positive situations. This has huge ramifications when it comes to how our brain works and helps us stay joyful. So when you are stuck in traffic driving somewhere, instead of getting impatient, figure out how the situation can be positive. Maybe you can call and talk to someone. Maybe you can pray. Maybe you can enjoy time with those in the care with you. Whatever problem you face look for the positive in it.
3. Maintain a positive attitude. It is easier to maintain a positive attitude than regain a positive attitude. This is very, very true. You can choose what attitude you have. God would not have commanded us to rejoice always if it was impossible. Choose to rejoice and choose to not let your attitude go sore. Let everyone else be negative, you be positive. Get up on the wrong side of the bed and choose to not have a rotten day. Stay positive.
4. Smile. I know, this seems obvious and self-explanatory. But did you know that smiling for one minute (even if you force that smile) will release stuff in your brain and make you feel happier? Doubt me? Try it. I dare you.
It is time to get back to the source of joy, to obey the One who said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” Run. With a smile on your face.