Today was one of those days.
Not a crisis. Not a tragedy.
Just a day full of little annoyances and agitations. A day of minor irritations that led to major aggravation. A day where frustration got the better of me. Quite honestly, every single thing that occurred seemed to wriggle right down under my skin and get stuck.
Have you ever had one of those days?
A day when nothing seems to go quite right? A day when not just any feathers get ruffled, but when the truly vulnerable ones do, those that we hold close, those that stick straight and unwavering directly into our hearts?
A down day.
That’s what I call it.
It’s what I’ve come to call it, at least. I’ve named it that after the fuzzy down feathers that rest on a bird’s breast right over its delicate heart.
Why, you might ask?
Because down feathers serve a great purpose for a bird. Those fine, soft plumages trap warm air. They insulate against heat loss. They repel water and promote buoyancy too. And they even aide considerably in flight. However, in spite of their significance (or maybe because of it), a bird’s protective downy feathers will often wear. They get disheveled and weaken. They get tousled and turn brittle. With too much abrasion, they can even become stiff and break. And when they do, the process always makes vulnerable that little singer’s heart.
Much like what happens to our own hearts on a down day. Isn’t it? As unwanted circumstances come, doesn’t our tolerance fade? When things go sideways, isn’t our patience the first to deteriorate? Our peace just as quick to crumple and fold? Instead of feeling secure, we find ourselves exposed, oversensitive, raw. We ask ourselves, why is God allowing this? Why won’t He make this any easier?
What we don’t realize in these moments is God has a great purpose too. A greater spiritual purpose, in fact, than what immediate comfort can provide.
It’s called sanctification.
And it’s the process by which we molt.
Molting, you see, is what all birds must go through. Every year their delicate downy feathers wear and weaken, particularly during the hot, dry summer months. These precious fowl then shed their useless, old feathers so that stronger and more durable ones can grow and take their place. Little by little, one feather at a time, better protection forms. Little by little, one day at a time, a more reliable covering develops and along with it, a brighter color, a more vibrant pattern, and a more radiant coat.
God has the same in mind for us.
On certain days and in certain seasons, God allows undesirable circumstances to come. Not to wear us down or to harm us. Rather, He wants to expose what is already worn. What is already weakening us. What may even be grounding us from flight. He wants to reveal any defective thoughts, blemished attitudes and unrealistic expectations, anything that doesn’t fully align with His Word and His best for our lives.
After all, God made us to spiritually fly. To “soar on wings like eagles,” to “run and not grow weary,” to “walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31 NIV). He longs for us to be fully alive, fully functioning in Him just as He created us to be. To do so, however, requires soul maintenance. At times God must do some spiritual tinkering. He may even need to allow real unmitigated transformation to occur in our hearts, and none of that ever feels good.
Ponder what the book of James tells us:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:2-3 NIV).
James actually echoes Paul’s same sentiments in Romans 5:2-3 when he writes, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
As we can see in these verses, James and Paul clearly understood something about down days. As they persevered through their own personal trials, these men understood that pain can at times be an opportunity. A chance to partner with God in the greater soul work being done. An occasion to grow closer to Him through the process of sanctification, through the process of molting.
And we can too.
We can engage with God as He sloughs off the old. We can seek His understanding and revelation through our daily tests of faith. We can lean into Him and ask Him to help us see with spiritual eyes. It’s not always fun. And it’s rarely pain-free. But if we let God have His way in us like James and Paul did, these down days will make us stronger. They will make us more like Him, and inevitably they will make us much more equipped to fly.
And if you’d like a little more practical help on your down days, here are three things I’ve learned from mine:
1. Don’t dwell on the negative.
Don’t hit replay. Don’t reenact the hard. The more you focus on negative things, the bigger they become. Instead “take captive” negative thoughts in spite of how you feel (Philippians 4:8). Fix your mind on what is going right and remember this:
Feelings are always followers.
Feelings will go where your mind goes. They will sway where your thoughts sway. As you choose to be grateful, as you think about what’s positive, as you attempt to see from God’s perspective rather than your own, your feelings will eventually follow suit.
2. Pursue God’s presence.
God understands. Every exasperation, every frustration, every hurt a down day might bring, He knows them. He records them (Psalm 56:8). He holds our tears in a bottle, the psalmist says. On down days, we can easily forget this. We demand God’s hands fix it, but His presence is what we need more.
In His arms, after all, is the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). In His embrace is peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). In Him, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So, seek Him on your down days. Pursue Him. Soak in His presence until the molting gives way to new life.
3. Intentionally choose to believe God loves you no matter what.
Unconditionally, one hundred percent, God loves you because He wants to, because He made you, because it thrills Him just thinking of you. Let that really sink in. No down day, no matter how bad, has the power to cloud God’s love from your eyes (Romans 8:38).
The enemy’s number one ploy is to deceive you. He wants to cause you to doubt God’s love and His goodness in your life. But don’t be deceived. Cling to God’s love and to the fact that His very nature, character and essence is love (1 John 4:8).
Down days do come, but they don’t have to overcome you.
God’s love is greater, and His truth will ultimately prevail.