When Life Stinks

how to change your attitude using the Bible

“There you go—all clean!” He picks his daughter up off the changing table and gives her a snuggle. She pats his face, giggling as his mustache tickles her fingers.

He flies her, Superbaby-style, into the kitchen. She squeals with delight; he finally dares to breathe through his nose. “Wow, that was an impressive diaper,” he tells her, wrinkling his nose and chuckling. “You even polluted the air in the kitchen! Who knew someone so sweet could make something so gross?”

He straps her into the high chair. “How about some banana?”

As he peels and slices the fruit, he grimaces. “You know what? It still smells funky in here. I’m going to get some air freshener.”

Handing his daughter the banana, he heads to the bathroom for a can of air freshener. As he sprays it in the kitchen, he whispers, “Don’t tell your mother. She’ll say I’m contaminating the food.”

The baby grins. “Gah.”

Twenty minutes later, they sit together on the couch, pointing to pictures in a board book. As his daughter’s chubby fingers pat the pictures, his nose sends out panicked alerts. “Again?” he asks the back of his daughter’s head. “No more black beans for you, my friend.”

Bible verses to help your attitude

With a sigh, he takes her back to the changing table. But when he opens her diaper, he blinks. “Pump fake! You’re totally clean!”

She giggles agreement. “Bah!”

He puts her down for a nap and sits at his desk, trying to catch up on emails. He takes a deep breath and gags. “Sheesh, that child has contaminated this entire house!” He grabs the air freshener and squares his shoulders. He marches room to room, spraying—a firefighter dousing a blaze.

When he is done, a fake-flower-scented mist hangs heavy in the air. Eyes watering, he sits back down at his desk and tries to concentrate.

An hour later, he hears his wife’s keys in the front door. He meets her at the door and holds out the baby—her fat little legs kick happily in the air between them. “This child,” he says, his voice sounding a little more manic than he wants it to, “has serious gastrointestinal issues. I am telling you, this is not normal. I had college roommates who smelled better than her! We have to take her to the doctor—she will never make a single friend if she smells like this.”

Laughing, his wife takes the baby and raises her toward her face.

“Don’t do it!” the husband warns. “Your nose will never recover!”

The wife rolls her eyes and presses her nose against the baby’s padded bottom. The husband waits for her gag reflex to kick in.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about—she smells amazing! Baby fresh!” Cuddling the baby to her cheek, the wife steps inside. “The house, on the other hand…did a can of air freshener explode in here?”

Her husband gapes at her. “What–what–how can you not smell her? I’ve been dying a slow death by methane poisoning all morning!”

Laughing, his wife takes a step toward him, placing a hand on his cheek. “Darling, I can promise you that no one has ever died from—” She narrows her eyes and leans in close. Sniffs. Recoils for a moment, then leans back in, squinting hard at his face.

“What?” he says, stepping back from her scrutiny. “You’re freaking me out!”

His wife raises a finger and points. A smile tugs at one side of her mouth. “Mystery solved. You’ve got baby poop in your mustache.”

A friend once told me this story—a true story that happened to one of his friends (the overall situation is real; the dialogue I invented). I gag—and laugh—every time I remember it. Call me weird (I prefer the term “quirky”), but I’ve found some profound life lessons in this story. (I know what you’re thinking: Why do all of Elizabeth’s life lessons seem to revolve around disgusting things like poop and lice? I’ve got five words for you: four kids and a dog.)

So hold your nose and bear with me while we hash this out: Have you ever had a day—or a season of days—where everything just….stinks? Everywhere you go, life seems dark, people seem mean. Misfortune and misunderstanding haunt you, malicious shadows.

In times like that, when life seems darker than usual, I find it helpful to ask myself, “Is life really as awful as it seems…or do I just have poop on my upper lip?” In other words, am I carrying around a stinky attitude that is polluting the way I experience the world? Am I walking into beautiful, fresh-scented rooms, but carrying my own negative aroma with me—an air freshener in reverse?

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Sometimes our experience of the world changes, not because the world has changed, but because we have.

Maybe someone has hurt our feelings, and the unresolved hurt we are hanging onto makes us view all other relationships with mistrust. We begin to see people through a filter of skepticism; every relationship becomes a potential source of pain.

Maybe we feel disappointed by God, let down by a promise yet unanswered, and we find ourselves becoming cynical, sarcastic, jaded. Angry with God, expecting the worst, determined to take care of ourselves if God won’t do the job.

Maybe we’ve lost something or someone, and the loss casts a shadow of sadness and fear over our should-be-happy moments.

Jeremiah 17, the famous passage about depending on God, contains a fascinating turn of phrase:

The man who trusts in mankind,

who makes human flesh his strength

and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.

He will be like a juniper in the Arabah;

he cannot see when good comes

but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness.

                        Jeremiah 17:5–6 HCSB, emphasis added

            Take a look at those emphasized verses: he cannot see good when it comes. Sometimes God is blessing us—life is good, people are kind, blessings abound—but our own perspective has clouded our view, tainted our experience, of the world. We’ve taken our eyes off God and His power and goodness. We’ve become self-focused and tunnel-visioned, our senses warped by pain and disappointment, so we cannot see—or smell!—the good when it comes.

The next time your life feels like a series of misfortunes, or God seems distant, or friends seem scarce, try taking a look in the mirror. Maybe you really are going through a miserable time; maybe you really are facing more than your fair share of difficulty; maybe people truly are being cruel and selfish…or maybe, just maybe, you’ve got poop on your upper lip.


Need some biblical air freshener to help change your perspective?

Try studying these scriptures—they are about forgiveness, joy, and trusting God:

Habakkuk 3:16–19

Psalm 37

Psalm 147:1–7

Matthew 6:5–15

Matthew 18:21–35

Philippians 4:4–9

Philippians 4:11–13

Here’s to breathing fresh air, my friends!

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Teaching Kids to “Go the Extra Mile”

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Me: “Hey, {insert child’s name}, will you help me {set the table/carry the laundry/vacuum the floor} ?”

Kid, with a dramatic groan: “But that’s not my chore this week!”

**Repeat variations of this conversation a dozen times, with all of my children, over several weeks.**

Me to myself: Time for a family talk.

With this attitude problem in mind, last week the kids and I held a quick devotion time before school. We turned to Matthew 5:41–42: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Kind of a strange passage, right? Not your usual “encourage the kids to help around the house with a good attitude” scripture.

But hang with me.

First I had to explain the context of the passage to the kids. During Jesus’ day, the Romans occupied all Jewish territory. By law, Roman soldiers could force Jewish people to carry their equipment for them—they could just stop them on the side of the road and conscript them into service. No matter what the Jew was doing or where he was going, he had to stop and travel with the Roman as his temporary slave. (Remember Simon, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus couldn’t carry it himself (Mark 15:21)? That’s an example of this law in action.)

The only redeeming aspect of this law was its built-in limitation: the Roman could only force the Jew into service for one mile. We can imagine how humiliated the Jews must have felt by this practice—how slowly and angrily they must have walked while shouldering their enemy’s burden, how violently they must have dropped the baggage at the end of their mile of service.

To help the kids connect with the story, we acted this scene out using pillows from our couch. I played the part of the Roman soldier, and forced my son to carry my pillows across the room. I piled pillow after pillow into his arms, until he was giggling his head off, and his giggling head had completely disappeared behind a pile of pillows. Then he had to attempt to walk across the room.

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When everybody stopped laughing, we used this story to talk about Jesus’ expectations for his followers. Jesus called his disciples to have a completely different attitude than anyone else. Instead of giving in to anger and resentment, he called us to show the love and grace of God by going the extra mile. (And now you know where that phrase came from! Cool, right?) The disciple of Jesus shouldn’t just count his steps till he reaches the end of his required service, then drop the burden and stomp off in a bitter huff—no, the disciple of Jesus says, “Hey, Roman soldier, I’m enjoying your company so much, why don’t you let me carry this for you for another mile? And while I’m at it, let me tell you about a preacher named Jesus…” Jesus wants his people to exemplify kindness and grace, even in the face of injustice and cruelty. He wants us to do more than expected, and better than expected!

And how does this lesson translate into our daily life today? It means that as people who love Jesus, we always seek to have a great attitude no matter what—even if we are being mistreated. It means that we show the love of God to people who don’t “deserve” it. It means we do more than we have to, and we do it with a great attitude. In Colossians 3: 22–24, Paul has these words of admonition for slaves with their masters (I emphasized some phrases): “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” What a challenging attitude to attain, under painful circumstances—but what a great reward in the end!

We talked about having a “second-mile” attitude in our family life—in everything we do at school, in sports, in friendship, and at home. We talked about always looking for ways to serve and give, above and beyond what we are required to do. I asked the kids to work on having a better attitude about helping around the house—not thinking in terms of what’s on the chore chart, and what they have to do to earn allowance, but always striving to serve as much as they can, and with a generous spirit.

I have to say, the Bible is powerful. Jesus’ ways work. This simple scripture brought immediate change to all of our hearts (the kids’ and mine!), and has made our house a more helpful and Christ-like place to live. If you do this devotion with your family, I hope it inspires you all to give your best and go the extra mile! (And come back and let me know how it goes— either here in the comments, or on Facebook—I love hearing from you!)

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