How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day All By Yourself

A lot of things can ruin an otherwise perfecly good day. There are those small annoyances – heavy traffic, lost keys, hair that won’t cooperate, an acne break-out, out-of-whack hormones that make you feel like a crazy person, a favorite shoe that your dog thinks is a chew toy, jeans that won’t button, spilled coffee (that you paid over $4.00 for), an empty gas tank, and a less-than-encouraging conversation with your insurance company (who put you on hold for 45 minutes before vividly reminding you why you hate your insurance company).

There are also times when a day is derailed by something major – a car accident, a sick child, a miscarriage, a layoff, a foreclosure, a scary diagnosis, or a heart-wrenching breakup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change. In a matter of seconds, a good day can become your worst day. Though we like to pretend otherwise, life is incredibly unpredictable. Needless to say, I am deeply thankful that mine is in the tight grip of a sovereign, all-wise God who is never taken by surprise.

But if I’m honest, most of the bad days I have aren’t caused by those little annoyances, major trials, or anything in between. Most of my bad days are my own fault. Regrettably, I am quite good at ruining an otherwise fabulous day all by myself – no outside influences necessary. Here’s how to do it:

1)    Foster feelings of entitlement.

By feelings of entitlement, I mean that attitude that produces thoughts such as, “I’m better than this” . . . “He/She owes me” . . . “After all I do, this is the thanks I get?” . . . and the biggest one of all – “I DESERVE ________________.”

Such thoughts are usually easy to justify. I mean, I work hard to take care of my family. I do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. I work 14+ hour days, 365 days a year – no sick days. I spend most of my time playing little boy games and having little boy conversations. I wipe mouths, noses, bottoms, bathtubs, floors, and toilets. I make sure the bills are paid on time and that there is money left in the bank account afterwards. I brave the strange smells, bad lighting and dilapidated carts at Wal-mart instead of enjoying my beloved Publix in order to spend less of my hubby’s hard-earned dollars on food. (If that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is!) I could go on, but you get the idea. Not a day goes by that I don’t set aside my own interests and desires for the sake of my family. I know the same can be said of you!

I wish I could say that the sacrifices I make always produce an abundance of joy in my heart as I watch them bear fruit in the lives of those I love. But all-to-often, I play the “woe-is-me” card and allow them to produce a sense of entitlement that causes me to fixate on the praise I don’t receive, the privileges I don’t possess, and the personal ambitions I am unable to pursue.

“Don’t I deserve a big fat ‘thank you,’ and shouldn’t it come in the form of gorgeous flowers and my favorite chocolates? After all I do, don’t I have the right to splurge on a designer purse regardless of whether or not we can really afford it? In light of what I feel called, trained, and gifted to do, don’t I deserve several hours a week of uninterrupted time to write Bible studies while someone else cleans my house?” When my heart answers “yes” to such questions, it automatically says “no” to joy.

Joy simply cannot flourish in the life of someone who thinks she has the right to demand what her heart selfishly craves. That kind of woman is impossible to satisfy. I know because I’ve been that woman . . .way too often.

The only person who has ever had the right to act entitled is Jesus. Interestingly enough, he never did. In fact, He is the embodiment of humble and joyful self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:5-8 makes this ever so clear: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

If you ever want to suck all the joy out of your own heart, just foster feelings of entitlement. Instead of emptying yourself for the sake of others, demand that others fill you up. Whine and pout when they don’t. Post something depressing or nasty on Facebook about it. Make sure all the thankless, uncooperative people in your life know how you feel. Then, go buy yourself a new outfit, splurge on a spa pedicure, and treat yourself to a big slice of cheesecake. Just know that as you run hard after what you “deserve,” you are bound to ruin any chance of enjoying what you already have.

2)    Fixate on the “greener grass”.

Let me explain this one with a little story. There once was a wife who had an amazing, thoughtful, and generous husband. One Valentine’s Day, this husband planned to take her out to a fabulous restaurant, give her a beautiful necklace, write her a sweet love note, and spend the evening catching up on season 1 of Downton Abbey. The wife looked forward to her Valentine’s date for weeks. She got an overnight baby sitter. She picked out a great outfit. She even shaved her legs! The day started out great, but by the time the date actually started she was a dissatisfied, pouty, irritated woman. You see, all day she had been bombarded with pictures on Facebook of other wives’ flowers, chocolates, homemade breakfasts, and adorable lunch dates. As she looked at these pictures, she began to wonder, “Why didn’t I get my card this morning? Why don’t I have a box of chocolates to enjoy throughout the day? Why doesn’t my husband ever cook for me?” And when her husband was a little late picking her up, she convinced herself that it was because he didn’t care as much as she did, that he didn’t really want to take her out, and that all the women who were being treated to made-from-scratch romantic dinners at home were much better off. None of that was true, of course. But her eyes were so blinded by the highly edited, seemingly perfect “greener grass” of her friend’s lives that she was incapable of enjoying the beauty of her own.

I may or may not know that wife. But I can tell you that I have ruined so many days, weeks, and even months by fixating on what others have (or what I THINK they have) that I don’t. I once heard a Christian comedian say that the grass is greenest where it’s been pooped on. In other words, nobody’s life is as good as it looks on the surface. And even if it was, I shouldn’t be looking over there anyway. God has planted enough blessings on my own side of the fence to keep me occupied (and grateful!) for a lifetime. “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and rest in knowing that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Otherwise, you might end up ruining a perfectly good Valentine’s Day. Not that I know anything about that . . .

3)    Cultivate unrealistic expectations.

I’ve already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “misery factor.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, things can get ugly. Days can be ruined.

Why is it that a husband coming home late from work, a toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or a coworker acting like a total jerk can send a perfectly good day spiraling downhill so quickly? Because our selfish hearts expect that husband to do whatever it takes –  short of getting fired or breaking any major laws – to get home when he said he would. That child is supposed to always reflect what an awesome, godly parent you are trying to be. And considering how many times you’ve covered for that coworker, you expect a little bit of respect!

Ninety percent of my bad days are rooted in my own unrealistic expectations of the people around me – expectations that are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others or God’s will for my life. When people don’t measure up or things don’t work out like I had planned, I get frustrated, defensive, and even more self-focused. The result? Yet another good-day-gone-bad.

Having a bad day? Maybe it’s the disobedient kids, the inconsiderate boss, the troubled finances, the bad haircut, or the workaholic husband.

Or, maybe it’s your own heart.

You see, we don’t need any help ruining a perfectly good day. As sinners, we are quite capable of doing that all by ourselves.  Fortunately, God’s Spirit in us is quite capable of restoring the joy that we have allowed entitlement, discontentment, and selfish expectations to drain out of our lives (Gal. 5:22).

So go ahead and ask yourself that hard question: “Is my bad day my own fault?” If the answer is yes, take it to Jesus, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and seek to constantly weed out these subtle yet sinful attitudes.

Then, take a moment to bask in the sweet reality that tomorrow is a new day!

The Misery Factor

It happened around 8:20 this morning. I had just dropped Shepherd off at preschool. My husband was leaving as I was walking into the house.

I gave him a half-hearted kiss goodbye, stepped inside, and then I slammed the door. That’s right, folks. Slammed it . . .really hard. Like, the windows rattled a little. Not my finest moment.

Husband comes back in: “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad?”

Me: “No, I’ll be fine.”

And I am. Well, almost. Give me about five more minutes and another cup of coffee . . .

What could make the sweet, emotionally stable, fun-loving, Holy Spirit indwelt “me” slam a door on a relatively uneventful Wednesday morning?

One word: EXPECTATIONS.

I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “MISERY FACTOR.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, well, doors get slammed (and other “too-shameful-to-mention-on-this-blog” kinds of things).

This morning was supposed to be nice and simple. The plan was to wake Shepherd up, get him dressed, feed him breakfast, watch a few minutes of Barney, strap him into his car seat, and head to school. We would get there right on time and he would be all smiles entering the room. And since I got up early today and had an incredible quiet time, I would have the perfect Christ-like attitude. Most days, that’s how it is (with the exception of the “perfect Christ-like attitude part” – that’s always a work in progress!).

Not today.

Today was “refuse to get into the car” day. Coupled with “I’m going to run away and laugh when mommy says to stop” day.  So there I was, ready to go, ready to get him to school so I could get back home and enjoy the few, short hours of quiet. But instead, I had to take him into his room and discipline him. Ten minutes later, I had to wrangle my child (who was still sobbing) into his car seat and drive him (still sobbing) to school.

Did I mention that once we got to school it was “I’m not going in there” day? Yep. Fun times. By the time I walked out the door of the school, hot tears were reaching the surface. I was angry, frazzled, and most of all, sad. I get absolutely no pleasure out of disciplining my child. The results are wonderful, but the process is heart-breaking. Always.  Every time. Never. Gets. Easier.

The question is, how did I go from the refreshed, joyful, full-of-Jesus woman who just had an amazing time in the Word; to a frustrated, moody, door-slamming grump who could barely kiss her husband goodbye?

The answer: Expectations, reality, and the simple fact that this morning, the two did not match. I experienced the “misery factor” and chose to wallow in it. Has that ever happened to you? I’m sure it has. There about a thousand different things that can do it. . .

Expectation: The hubby will help get the kids fed, bathed, to ready for bed.

Reality: He’s glued to the TV watching a “very important”  ball game.

Expectation: Since you read all the parenting books, that bundle of joy you’ve been carrying for 9 months is going to be a piece of cake to care for and make your life 1,000 times better.

Reality: Your baby did not come into the world having read “the books” and, therefore, could care less that he or she is SUPPOSED to “feed-wake-sleep” in in a perfectly scheduled pattern. Oh, and the combination of sleep deprivation and hormones makes you a crazy woman. Life is actually a lot harder.

Expectation: Your child is going to be the model Christian, because you love Jesus and  “trained your child in the way he should go.”

Reality: Your child wants nothing to do with the Lord right now. He’s “in the world” and loves it.

Expectation: Family devotions are going to be a sweet time of connecting with each other and growing closer to Jesus.

Reality: Chaos.

Expectation: All the healthy eating and working out guarantees that your favorite jeans are finally going to fit.

Reality: They must have shrunk in the dryer. Right? Please tell me they shrunk in the dryer!

Expectation: Romantic date night Saturday night!

Reality: The babysitter cancelled. The night is spent watching House Hunters re-runs. Bow-chicka-wow-wow . . .NOT!

Whether it’s a little thing (like a morning that doesn’t go as you planned) or a big thing (like a marriage that is so NOT what you dreamed it would be), the expectation-reality gap can infect our hearts with discontentment, anger, resentment, and all sorts of other sinful attitudes (that may cause door-slamming). So what do we do? How do we fight the misery factor? Here are some things we have to know . . .

1) Most of our expectations are tainted with selfishness. For example, at the heart of my expectation for a “perfect morning” was a selfish desire for an easy day and as many minutes to myself as possible. At the heart of my expectation for my husband to be and do “this” or “that” is almost always a selfish desire for him to do things how I want, when I want, and the way I want. And my expectations for Shepherd to always listen and obey are in-part rooted in my desire to be perceived as an amazing, godly parent who has it all together. It’s so embarrassing when he acts out!

My expectations are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others. So, the only way to “refine” them is to intentionally peel my eyes off of myself and fix them on those around me. Philippians 2:3, 4 holds the key: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” I have found that the more I am focused on the needs and feelings of the people in my life, the more selfless (and realistic!) my expectations become.

2) Our expectations are often flat-out unbiblical. Here’s the thing – I’m a sinner, who married a sinner, and then gave birth to a sinner. That’s three sinners living under one roof. I don’t have to go any further than the Scriptures for a crystal-clear explanation as to why THAT is not pure, uninterrupted bliss! I am convinced that most conflict both in marriages and parent-child relationships is due to the fact that one or both parties is demanding from the other something they just can’t deliver. Because of Jesus, the penalty and power of sin have been dealt with for good (Romans 6!). But the presence of sin in our lives is something that is dealt with over time, as we grow and walk with Jesus.  Almost every conflict in my marriage stems from me expecting Greg to act fully sanctified, when in reality, he’s a work-in-progress just like the rest of us. Same thing with my son. Scripture says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov. 22:15). Why, then, do I get so bent out of shape and take is so personally when Shep acts foolishly? Duh, Aprile!

Have you ever stopped to think about why the Bible talks so much about forgiveness and reconciliation? Could it be because God knows that we are sinners who, though saved by grace, are still wired to disappoint and sometimes even wound each other? Why does it take us so long to get this through our heads? One of the biggest ways we fight the “misery factor” is by lining up our expectations alongside the Scriptures and adjusting those areas that don’t match up. This doesn’t mean we go through life expecting everyone around us to sin all the time, but it does mean that we lighten up a bit, choose grace,  and allow love to cover a multitude of sins. (Ps. 103:8-14; 1 Peter 4:8).

3) Our reality is under the sovereign rule of God. Truth is, sometimes our expectations aren’t selfish or unbiblical, yet life still doesn’t measure up. I’m thinking of a friend who expected to grow old with her husband, but ended up attending his funeral barely a year after their wedding. I have another friend who expected to be a stay-at-home mom, but has had to get a job and put her kids in day care to make ends meet. Then there’s the beautiful, godly 30-something woman who longs to be married and have children for all the right reasons, but is STILL waiting for God to supply the man. I am part of a church body that expected to grow and impact the community under the leadership of a much-loved pastor and music minister, but experienced the one-two punch of losing them both within months of each other in tragic, unexpected deaths.

How do you deal with the “misery factor” then? How do you handle the gap between what you want and what actually is, when what you want is good and God-honoring? You have to surrender your desires on the altar of His perfect will. You have to replace the “why this, why now, why me” questions with the truth that our God – though unpredictable and often impossible to understand – is good, and that ALL His ways are good. He is ALWAYS faithful, and you – sweet sister – are not going to be the one exception. One of my favorite verses is Deuteronomy 32:4: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”  When there is a gap between good expectations and a hard reality, the way out of our misery is always trust in the perfect, loving, all-wise, sovereign hand of God.

Maybe slamming doors it’s your thing. You may like to express your misery in more civilized ways. But I know you feel it sometimes, because I know you’re human. I know that there are things about your life that are so different than you expected – not in a good way.

Emotions are what they are, but you get to choose whether to stay miserable or not. Focus, truth, and trust – that’s how you get your smile back. That’s how you stop slamming doors, call your husband and apologize for being so rude, and go on with your day. That’s how you enjoy your reality – however different it may be from your expectations.

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