How to Beat That Bad Mood
Recently, I came across a few different articles on a common theme: grumpiness. These were articles meant to offer guidance in those times—those inevitable times—when you’re in a bad mood and just can’t break out. While the articles had some helpful advice, they had this in common: They dealt with symptoms rather than root cause. They dealt with overcoming the manifestations of grumpiness instead of looking for the heart of grumpiness. Christians can do better.
I know a thing or two about bad moods. I am usually an upbeat person, but on a regular basis am forced to deal with a pretty significant case of the grumpies. I know how difficult it is to snap out of that bad mood. But even though it may be difficult, it is not impossible. Here’s how to beat that bad mood:
Go to the Gospel
If there is ever a time to preach the gospel to yourself, this is it. Reminding yourself of the gospel is the ultimate reality check. Reminding yourself of the gospel, and allowing those truths to cross your mind and heart, is reminding yourself of the deepest realities of the universe. You will remind yourself that you are a sinful person who deserves God’s wrath, that God himself entered this world as a man, that he bore all your sin and condemnation, that he suffered the wrath of God on your account, that he died the death you deserve, that he rose in triumph, and that all of his righteousness has been given to you. Some people say that when you’re grumpy you ought to meditate. They’re exactly right, except that instead of that Eastern mind-emptying meditation, you need that Christian mind-fillingmeditation, where you deliberately fill your mind with the truth of the gospel.
Call It What It Is
Having preached the gospel to yourself, you are now in a place to call that grumpiness what it is. It is sin. It is exactly the kind of sin Jesus had to die for. There is never an excuse for being grumpy. To be grumpy is to be bad-tempered and sulky, surly and peevish. You get grumpy when life has not gone the way you wanted it to, when others have interrupted your plans for a peaceful and easy life, when others have somehow irritated you. You may even just wake up grumpy for what appears to be no reason at all. Grumpiness works itself out in your mind, so you keep chewing over ways you have been wronged. You become irritable and short-tempered. You snap at others and excuse yourself. There is a category of righteous anger (“Be angry and do not sin,” says Ephesians 4:26), but there is never righteous grumpiness. Jesus was angry and indignant in the face of moneychangers in the temple and in the face of disciples who would tell children to get lost. But he wasn’t grumpy. Grumpiness is sin, plain and simple.
Give It a Name
You have acknowledged that your grumpiness is sin. That’s a great first step, butsin is a general term. You should now advance one step farther and give that sin a biblical name. Grumpiness isn’t a term the Bible uses, so it is far better to go with irritability, impatience, or unrighteous anger. Maybe all three. Those are the ways the Bible describes your grumpiness and in every case it describes it as sin. You may want to dress it up in all kinds of pretty clothes (“I’m just struggling right now” or “It’s fine, I’m just in a bad place”), but in the end it is simply one or more of those sins. By naming grumpiness as sin—the sin of unrighteous anger, or the sin of irritability, or the sin of impatience—you have allowed yourself no excuse and have put yourself in a position to deal with it properly. And the proper way to deal with it is to ask God’s forgiveness for it.
Note: I know this all sounds rather formal and wooden, but all three of these steps can be accomplished in all of ten seconds. It may be worth taking longer, especially when grumpiness becomes a pattern, but in the heat of the battle, this kind of thinking can be done in a very short time.
Go to the Source
You have gone to the gospel, you have named that sin what it is, and you have asked forgiveness for it. Now is the time to go to the source, to try to establish the reason for that grumpiness. It may be that you have been allowing yourself to meditate on what is ugly and sinful and that your sinful mood is related to your sinful thoughts. It may be that someone has sinned against you. It may be that you have sinned against your child or your spouse. It may be that pride is at the cause, and that your grumpiness is a response to embarrassment or a response to being overlooked. It may be that you had a dream in the night and somehow your brain is confusing that dream with reality. (Am I the only one this happens to?) It may even be that you will never find a source. But if and when you do find that source, you also find a clear means of response or restitution—an apology (when you have sinned against someone), a confrontation (when you have been sinned against), a good laugh at yourself (when you realize that you are in a bad mood only because your pride has been wounded).
Counter Sin with Truth
The way to beat error—the kind of error that leads to grumpiness—is to counter it with truth. Truth is always more powerful than error. The problem with grumpiness is that it is so, so difficult to reason yourself out of it. In your bad mood you need to act contrary to the way you feel. When you feel grumpy, it is the time to act in truthful, joyful ways and to trust that your feelings will follow your actions. Some can do this by simply meditating on what is true. But for many others, extra help is needed, and here we have help: Truth plus music is a powerful combination. It’s a combination that can so easily turn the heart in a whole new direction. So sing! Sing of what is true—of God and the gospel and the work of Christ. And then act in godly, truthful ways.
The sin of grumpiness, like every other sin, is an issue of the heart. Our temptation is always to deal with the manifestations rather than the root. The best and most lasting way of beating that bad mood is always to go to the heart and to deal with the deepest root cause.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.