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My Best Worst Day

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

Few lines in English literature are more memorable than this phrase from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Many, I am sure, see in those words the story of their lives. Good days and bad, victories and defeats, successes and failures, loss and redemption, darkness and light, each interwoven into the landscape of their life journey.

As I move toward the seventh decade of life, I have stumbled across a better descriptive phrase for my experience as a Christ follower. When touched by Jesus, even the worst days can become the best days.

There was a time when I was fascinated, even frustrated, that the New Testament writers, and all of history for that matter, remember certain people by what could clearly be called their worst day: what was least appealing about their story. It is at best interesting that for 2,000 years a guy who was healed is still known as Blind Bartimaeus. Add to that Simon the Leper, the woman caught in adultery, and the Gadarene Demoniac, and it can be almost baffling that they had to carry such negative descriptions across time. After all, Simon is no longer a leper, the woman was forgiven and cleansed by Christ for her adultery, and the last time we read of the Gadarene he was sitting sane at the feet of Jesus.

Shouldn’t they be described by new adjectives, remembered for what happened when they met Jesus, celebrated as healed, forgiven, and set free rather than tagged for what signaled their brokenness? It seemed unfair that they were remembered for the worst part of their stories.

But more than one journey into the ditch has helped me better understand. Their worst day became their best day when they met Jesus smack dab in the middle of their mess. And when worst days become best days, what once brought shame—like the reminder of what went wrong—becomes a priceless memorial to the lavish grace of God poured out upon His children.

“The Guy Who ‘Lost It’”

I’ve had my own share of worst days, but few compared to what happened years ago when I ended up neck deep in anxiety and depression and found myself fighting for my sanity. That is definitely on my top 10 list of worst days! I was almost undone by an emotional firestorm, separated from everyone I loved, embarrassed that I got myself in such a dark place, filled with a truck load of shame, and sure that my ministry was over.

Today, looking back across the years, I can see that what was one of my worst days did, in fact, become one of my best days. A time and place most thought were pure darkness brought hidden treasures from the Lord (see Isa. 45:3). Make no mistake, it was an incredibly painful experience. But today I don’t mind when people identify me as the guy who “lost it,” because what I found in that “worst experience” changed my life.

At first I thought Jesus had abandoned me in that dark night. I reached rock bottom and wondered if He even existed. But soon I learned that Jesus did some of His best work in dark places. Desperation birthed deep longing, and I discovered that there was something far more important than solving my problems or being healed. It was the ongoing birth of intimacy with Christ nurtured when the worst of times threatened to undo me.

Falling into the Grand Canyon of my own breakdown didn’t “just happen.” Despite the fact that I had success in ministry—including writing a couple books, heading a seminary, and planting a growing church—there were wounds of the past that were crippling me. I worked hard to keep my wounded childhood far behind me, not knowing that it had a stranglehold on my well-being.

Childhood abuse, as well as my own rebellious past, had caused a deep fracturing of my soul. I needed the Lord’s healing presence in the place of pain and brokenness, but I would never have said “yes” to that journey had it not been for that “worst day” experience. In his severe mercy, Jesus forced me to lay down so He could begin the healing of my broken past.

From Shifting Sand to Solid Rock

Facing into “worst days” offers us a choice: We can either double down on painkilling or allow the Lord to deconstruct how we do life. I had been doing life for years through performance, attempting to be a somebody through achievement and recognition. I invested deeply and felt like I had made progress in climbing the ladder of success.

It was during my “worst day” season, when I tumbled down the ladder of success through emotional breakdown, that the Lord revealed that I had been building my life on shifting sand. Trying to fill core longings through performance was futile, increasing a personal sense of frustration and anxiety. It was during that “worst day” experience that Jesus began to teach me to build my life on Him, the solid Rock.

There is nothing more important than knowing that we belong to God. Paul wrote that Jesus came so that we could belong to the Father. With that comes a new identity and “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Pet. 1:4). Every moment of every day the Spirit whispers the promise that God is our Abba (see Gal. 4:4-7). That means that our deepest longings are met, not through achievement or performance or people-pleasing, but through the matchless grace of Christ. Experienced grace brings a level of security and freedom we could never know apart from Him. I had to be locked up to find that freedom—the miracle of worst days becoming best days by the mercy of Jesus.

When I entered the dark night of brokenness, I was sure my ministry was over. I guess in some ways, it did end—especially the image of success I had worked so hard to construct. A trip into emotional breakdown can do that rather quickly. The Lord, however, opened the door for me to serve Him as a wounded healer. For years now Jesus has graciously allowed me to walk with people who also experienced the brokenness of unhealed wounds of the past. He has given me the privilege of telling people that “a bruised reed He will not break, a smoldering wick He will not put out” (Isa. 42:3), to share from experience that even brokenness, when touched by Jesus, can become a place of new life and freedom.

I have come full circle regarding biblical men and women being known through history by their worst days. It is a testimony to Christ, that in His hands worst days become best days and that reminders of dark times bring with them memories of the light of Christ that break through and forever change our stories. That is the miracle of healing grace many broken men and women experience because of Jesus.

Terry’s new book, Some Kind of Crazy (WaterBrook, October 2019), further explores how to face unresolved pain and difficult emotions and move forward on the path to hope and healing. Be sure to read an excerpt from Terry’s book in the Sept./Oct. issue of Alliance Life

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