Nobody enjoys bad days, but everybody has them. Sometimes it’s only one. Sometimes it’s several in a row. Other times they pile up. So when bad days come (not if!), what do we do? Before we get to an answer, please appreciate how important this question is. Because you are going to have bad days, you need a plan for them. This is akin to your family budget. Because you are going to have financial surprises, you prepare for them by making a plan, a budget. The budget will help you weather the surprise without freaking out, without experiencing overwhelming stress and anxiety. When you have a bad day plan, then, what we’re really doing is making a thought and action budget that will guide us through them.  

 So, when the bad days come, what is our plan?  

Putting our days in the context of days 

First, we need to put our days in the context of days. In other words, we need to remember that our days exist in a world of days, a world characterized by certain realities. So right away what we’re doing is turning outside of ourselves, away from ourselves to the larger reality around us, the larger reality in which we exist. What is the nature of this reality?   

Leaning on God’s Wisdom

I highly recommend the wisdom literature of Scripture (especially Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job) because these books do an outstanding job of both communicating the realities of these days and how to live well/wisely in them. The book of Ecclesiastes regularly characterizes life under the sun as vanity. The Hebrew word, hevel, means vapor, breath, or smoke. Here’s the idea: Go outside on a subfreezing winter day and exhale. Watch your breath swirl and turn in front of you.  Now grab it.  Hold it firmly in your fist. Then open your hand.  What do you have? Hevel. That’s the nature of these days.   

Pleasure, wisdom, work, wealth, even family, they’re all hevel, nothing but breath or vapor. They simply won’t last. Time will erase them. Death will take them. Or tragedy will befall them. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes calls it all striving after wind. It’s like a child trying to capture the wind with a butterfly net. Wind can’t be caught; it can’t be held. So, the things we set up to last won’t; the things on which we think we can rely will fail. Time, chance, and death will take them all. ALL. Why is the Preacher doing this? Is he driving us all to be nihilists despairing of all meaning or hope? Is he trying to leave us utterly depressed? No. He’s driving after sober wisdom. He’s trying to help us situate our days in these days.   

Receiving Our Daily Bread

Wisdom teaches us to make a sober and honest assessment of life under the sun. In fact, wisdom teaches us to accept it, not as nihilists or perpetually depressed slugs, but as thankful creatures of God. Wisdom calls us to live life with open hands, to receive our daily bread from God (even the daily difficulties) with thanksgiving, knowing that we will enjoy or endure them for a time, and a fleeting one at that.        

So when we have a bad day, we situate it in these days. We contextualize our day in these days.  These days are characterized by time, chance, and death. So in these days, bad days happen. They may not be a pleasant thing, but they are not a foreign thing.   

Speaking truth into our life 

Second, when you have a bad day, speak truth into your life. You may even need to do this out loud. This, in fact, is a key piece in mental health. We need to get truth in. And that means we may first need to get our unstated beliefs out, specifically out into the open where we can expose them to the light of God’s truth.

Think. Feel. Do.

Here’s what I’m saying: We all have sundry and various vague, amorphous thoughts roaming around in our minds (I’m not a good mom. I’m the laughingstock of the school. I hate my life. He didn’t talk to me because he’s mad at me. I had a terrible thought; I can’t tell anyone about it or they would think I was a terrible person.). They live in shadows and fog, unarticulated, but discernably present.  And these thoughts affect how we feel. And how we feel affects what we do. Think à Feel à Do. Get these three words a room in your mind. Think.  Feel. Do. Give them a permanent lease. Greet them daily. What you think, that is, what you believe to be true, what you tell yourself about the world, affects how you feel, and this affects what you do.   

Ask Yourself What You’re Thinking

When you have a bad day, ask yourself what you are thinking. Get it out of your head. Put it on the table. Turn the light on and look at it. Is your thought true? Is it the full truth? Half-truths often conceal full lies. Examine your thought with the brilliant light of God’s Word (This is why knowing God’s Word is so important!) Scripture teaches us to test everything. Does your thought stand up to scrutiny? Thoughts can be slippery things. So, you’re going to have to hold it down and interrogate it. And be aware, humans are the only species on the planet with the capability to lie to themselves… and to believe the lie! So I’m serious when I say you are going to have to interrogate your thought. It won’t readily admit it’s lying. You are going to have to come at it hard with the truth of God’s Word.  

Evict False Thoughts

When you do, you may discover false thoughts. In fact, I’m sure you will! When you do, evict them.  They are not welcome to stay in your mind. They are terrible tenants, make a mess of everything and they don’t pay rent. Do not let them back in. But this is key: You can’t just evict them and hope they stay out. They will try to sneak back in. (They do it through social media, through the music you listen to, the movies you watch.) What you need is a new tenant. That tenant needs to be God’s Word. To keep these untrue thoughts out, you need to speak God’s Word of truth in.  Consider the way Scripture addresses this:  

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2) 

The blessed man not only doesn’t hang out with lies, he meditates on God’s Word day and night. In other words, he has invited God’s Words into the rooms of His mind and He converses with them daily (and these tenants actually pay exceedingly well!). Consider the way David characterizes God’s Word in Psalm 19: 

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19:7-9) 

Perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true… reviving the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes, enduring forever, righteous altogether – aren’t these the tenants you want populating the rooms of your mind?  

Choosing to see the good  

Finally, when you have a bad day(s), intentionally find something good for which you can give thanks to God. The Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Notice what he says about giving thanks. Does he say, Give thanks for all circumstances? No. He says, Give thanks in all circumstances. Our circumstances might not be good. We may discover after interrogating our thought that it was telling the truth, that our circumstance isn’t good, that something is truly bad in our life. But we are not left destitute of gratitude and joy. Christ lives! Through His death and resurrection we have been reconciled to the Father and made inheritors of the kingdom, and nothing can take that away from us. Martin Luther tenaciously clung to that promise and taught us to do likewise when he wrote these words:  

 God’s Word forever shall abide,
    No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God Himself fights by our side
    With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
    Though life be wrenched away,
    They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever!
     -A Mighty Fortress is Our God, Lutheran Service Book, 657 

Cling to Christ

So even if we can’t find anything else good in our day, we have the unchanging and unfading good of Christ’s everlasting kingdom that we can claim every day. I like to call this a lassoed eschatology. I imagine myself (if I knew how to throw a lasso) throwing my lasso around the remarkable and hope-stuffed promises of God concerning the resurrection and renewal of creation, and pulling them into my present reality, even hogtying them and holding them down so that I can cling to them in the midst of my really bad days. 

Give Thanks In All Circumstances

If you’re a parent, allow me to share a simple idea for inviting gratitude into your family.1 Every night (as close to every night as we can get), after we read Scripture as a family, we share our highs and lows (the best thing from our day and the least enjoyable or most disappointing). This allows us both to celebrate and give thanks for the good things God gave to us over the course of our day and to speak God’s truth into the bad things that we may have experienced so that we can give thanks in all circumstances. Everybody shares. Everybody listens. And everybody learns how to do exactly what I’ve detailed in my response to this question. We learn how to put our days in the context of days, how to speak truth into our life, and how to choose to see the good. This is what we do when we have a bad day. 

If you or someone you know would like support in developing a plan for bad days or would benefit from Christ-centered mental health counseling, refer to or contact us today.

Lutheran Family Service walks with those experiencing difficult times through mental health counseling, marriage counseling, crisis pregnancy counseling, and adoption services.


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