Of Bad Days and Stinky Toddlers
I get made fun of quite a bit for my adoration of the book of Ecclesiastes, which is fair. If one considers the relative obscurity of the book and the hide-the-sharp-objects depressing content, it is perhaps rather cliché that I, a recovering nonconformist who struggles with occasionally powerful bouts of depression, would be drawn to it. But perhaps I can take a moment of your time to try to show you why I think it’s such a warm blanket for the soul. Let’s start in chapter 7, one of my favorite chapters in all the Old Testament.
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after Him.
If ever there were a verse to tattoo in Hebrew on your forearm it’s this one (I often write sentences like this and then think “wow…I really am a hipster wanna-be, aren’t I?”). This verse deftly sums up all of life by telling us a simple truth that we love to forget: you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. God gives us both. And, oddly, that concept is utterly freeing.
Here’s why: we all feel the twitch of frustration on bad days, rightly convinced that it should not be this way. On the other hand, we spend a good chunk of our good days discontented, either wondering why they aren’t better or we spend them in fear, wondering when the bad days will return. But in Ecclesiastes 7:14, Solomon frees us to enjoy the enjoyable things about life and accept a peace during the not so enjoyable things because it’s all in God’s hands.
A lot of the suffering we experience on bad days is caused by a “why me?” attitude. We hold an expectation that we should be having only good days, that we deserve something better, and maybe there’s something wrong with us because things stink. But we forget this is just how life on the earth works. All of life on earth has been cursed by God so, frankly my friend, it’s silly to expect anything different (Genesis 3:14–19). As Solomon establishes in the previous verse, “who can make straight what God has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13).
The first lesson in this verse to you who are having a bad day: calm down. You’re going to have a number of those before you die. In fact, to expect anything less is a futile and exhausting fight against the “work of God” (7:13).
I’ve always been mystified by the second half of this verse. It seems to be a bit of a non sequitur. But here’s how I’ve recently come to think it relates: our bad days reveal our total helplessness to control our circumstances or our destiny and, in light of our impotence, the only option left is to turn to God in utter, terrifying, vulnerable surrender. Bad days strip us of the throne we think we sit on. God uses them to remind us we aren’t in charge, a painful realization that forces us to deny ourselves and, in our impoverishment, bow to Him. It takes humility to realize that we can do nothing apart from Jesus (John 15). In our “you-can-do- anything-you-set-your-mind-to” Walt Disney culture, bad days are God’s mercy expressed in a divinely-ordained groin-shot that reminds us that we don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow (James 4:13–16).
There’s really nothing to do but calm down. In the midst of a culture that defines success as control and safety, God mercifully offers us the back seat when it comes to our destiny. Take a breath; that’s real peace. Solomon understood that, at the core, worry, anxiety, and control-freakishness are driven by a pride that thinks I can control my own life. And this pride is a smokescreen to cover a deeper-down horror of being out of control. In reality, I’m just a small, scared, whimpering toddler sitting in a dirty diaper in the corner and trying to overcome my terror by pretending I’m in control. If we let Him, God enters into our lives and holds us in His arms like the scared kids we are, whispering tenderly “It’s okay. Dad’s here.”
Bad days are much easier to stomach when we consider they are actually expressions of God’s love for us. He uses them to call us into deeper life with Him. It’s just a better way to live. An honest humility and simple, childlike trust in God’s provision and love for us is a much wiser and more pleasant way to spend your days than trying to figure out something we’ll never understand. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: calm down. It’s all going to work out in the end because, thank heaven, you’re not running things. Your perfect Dad is.
Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.