So You Had a Bad Day


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, Galatians 4:12-20, Matthew 15:21-28

This quote from Marilyn Monroe is all over social media: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” It’s frequently used out of context when someone wants to deflect criticism of  their own bad behavior. We don’t like someone telling us our behavior is bad, or even unhealthy. We might think other people need to hear criticism (again, reference social media for scathing comments about the scandal du jour) but when it’s leveled against us we call it “judging.” Since Jesus told us “judge not” we toss that out as a conversation stopper.

Except we take that out of context too: Jesus didn’t render us incapable of moral evaluation, but reminded us to be merciful to others because we want God to be merciful to us. We are allowed to call out injustice, and to be called out for committing it. While how we behave on our worst days isn’t the standard by which others should judge us, it’s also not above legitimate criticism.

When Paul wrote to the Galatians about the importance of including Gentiles in the Christian community, he reminded them they’d met him during some of his worst days, a period when he suffered from an unidentified ailment. The specifics are unknown, but it seems his condition was, at the very least, unpleasant. He wrote: “though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Was this because Paul told them: “If you can’t handle my worst you don’t deserve my best?” No. It was because even at his lowest points, Paul focused first on delivering the gospel message. His weakness was not a source of shame, nor an excuse for behaving badly, but evidence that Christ helps us endure all things.

No matter what, the world will find reasons to criticize us. We all have weak moments and bad days, so sometimes the world will be right to do so. How we handle criticism of our worst days tells people more about our character and our faith than a hundred of our best days.

Comfort: Your worst days are some of faith’s greatest opportunities.

Challenge: It can be tempting and easy to use stress as an excuse to be dismissive or abusive. Remember that your bad day does not give you latitude to ruin someone else’s.

Prayer: God of mercy, teach me to be merciful. Amen.

Discussion: Are you able to take constructive criticism?

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