I hung up the phone in disbelief. It was the spring of my junior year of college, and I had been looking forward to securing a paid summer internship with my hometown newspaper. A few months earlier I had spoken with the editor, and he assured me I was perfect for the position.
I envisioned living at home for the summer, saving some money, and gaining important experience that would look great on my resume. But when I called in that day, I was told that every internship had already been filled.
I was shocked. My summer plans had been contingent on that job. I got in my little gray Buick and headed out for a comfort mocha (coffee is one of my coping mechanisms). In my emotional state, I failed to notice the brake lights up ahead and rear-ended the car in front of me. The other driver and I got out of our vehicles, and I apologized to the woman, who was extremely kind (likely because of my tears). There were no damages, so she asked that I be more careful in the future and wished me a good rest of my day. I pulled over and sat in an empty parking lot for a good cry.
So you had a bad day
When the Daniel Powter song “Bad Day” came out in 2005 and became the anthem of rejected “American Idol” contestants, I could relate. Some days (or weeks) can be brutal. Instead of one thing going wrong, everything goes wrong. You lose the job, get in a fender bender, fight with a friend, take your dog to the vet — and then get a steep bill in the mail.
While none of these events alone is catastrophic, a sequence of discouraging events can make you feel like the world is caving in, leaving you wondering how much more you can withstand. I’ve had several such days through the years and have found a few helpful ways to cope with an especially discouraging day.
Pause. On a day when everything goes wrong, ceasing activity can be an effective calming tool. Sometimes when it feels like everything is falling apart, consciously slowing down can create mental space to process anxiety. An article on the power of pausing explains why this technique is effective:
“Pausing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us become calm. When our nervous systems are calm, we have more capacity to avoid reacting out of habit, and instead, to choose a response that is more satisfying, effective, and attuned to the situation at hand.”
In my 20s, I would jump in the car to go get a coffee when I received disappointing news. Now I know to take a deep breath, go for a walk, or listen to relaxing music until I feel calm. This is also a great time to cast all my cares on my caring Lord as 1 Peter 5:7 instructs.
Recenter on truth. When bad things happen, the shock is often followed by lies. For example, I receive the news that I wasn’t chosen for a job and I immediately think, I’m not good enough; others are better than me. Or I get in a car accident and I think, Why are bad things always happening to me? God must not care. Or my finances take a hit and I think, How will I ever pay the bills? I’m going to lose everything.
While bad news can cause fears to surface, what we first believe about a situation isn’t always the truth. On bad days, if I can recenter on the truth of who I am in Christ and trust that He is at work in my life through every circumstance, I can find peace. Instead of seeing the loss of an opportunity as a crushing blow, I can rest in the truth that the Lord is guiding me even when I don’t understand (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Embrace new mercies. When discouragements pile on, my perspective can drift to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God’s mercies are new each day. One bad day, or even a series of them, does not curtail this spiritual benefit.
Seeing God’s mercies requires paying attention to what God is doing in my life and being grateful. Not long ago, I received disappointing news about my work that made me feel bad about my myself. Over the next two days, I received multiple texts, phone calls and voice messages of specific encouragement from people who had no idea what I was going through. When I pay attention, I can see how the Lord is showing me His mercy every day.
Dealing with disappointment
It’s OK to be sad when bad days come. In fact, grieving losses in the right way is key to good emotional and spiritual health. When I lost that internship, when my long-distance boyfriend broke up with me, when my best friend let me down, when I didn’t get married as soon as I’d hoped, when I didn’t get the project I’d bid on … I had to grieve the losses each of those things represented.
The summer I lost the newspaper internship turned out differently than I had expected. I traveled out of state to attend a children’s ministry institute where I received instruction on how to teach children about the Bible. I even completed a short internship with the organization’s magazine. When I applied for my first job as an editor for a children’s magazine — and got the job — that summer’s experience looked much better on my resume than the original internship would have.
Now when I have a bad day, I can see it for what it really is: one bad day. Tomorrow could be totally different. Even if it’s not, I can wake up, try again, and experience God’s new mercies. He always has a plan, and His plans are always best.