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How To Respond To Bad News

Laura Phelps

They shall not fear an ill report; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:7)

“We’ve been here before.” I told myself this in response to bad news. With what can feel like bad news lurking around every corner, it’s easy to spiral into an abyss of despair and depression. There’s one problem with this response: We are Christians. As women of faith, we persevere in prayer, offer it up, count it all joy, and rejoice in all circumstances. 

Only sometimes we don’t.

When the hull is breached, the ship begins to take on water, and you can’t get the Titanic theme song out of your head, tell me, how’s that Christian response working for you?

Since trials are a part of every life (John 16:33), and we ought not to be surprised by them (1 Peter 4:12), I figured it would be wise to plan for these unexpected moments that make rejoicing insanely hard. I will be honest; I didn’t come up with this plan. It was the Holy Spirit. His power led my hand straight across coffee-stained journal pages until I stopped and found that I had written a simple formula for the Christian way of responding to bad news in two minutes. Knowing that I am not the only woman needing such a plan, I’ll share it with you. 

The best way to respond to bad news is by reminding yourself of these four realities:

  1. I’ve been here before.
  2. It didn’t last forever.
  3. God made a way then, and He will make a way now.
  4. I’m stronger because of it.

I’ve been here before.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4).

When faced with the day of trouble, we become perfect prey for Satan, because his specialty is attacking our hope. I found that what keeps my eyes focused on Christ, and not on the crisis, is to look back on the last difficulty that I found myself in, and then I ask these two questions:

  • How did I feel during that season? (I write these feelings down.)
  • Were these feelings true? (I circle the feelings that I believed were true but can see now were lies.)

It didn’t last forever.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you (1 Peter 5:10).

It can be hard to believe that the end is in sight when you're in the thick of suffering. And dare I say, sometimes the future is not in view. Oh, it is there, but not always in sight and possibly not even on this side of the veil! The enemy loves it when we are stuck in this place, because it is where our doubt in God’s goodness grows. Therefore, I have found it extremely important for my faith to remind me of this one simple truth: the crisis does not last forever. The way that I do this is by reflecting on the last situation and asking myself:

  • What did I do that was helpful? (e.g., did I talk to a spiritual director, go to daily Mass, seek support from friends or a professional, or eat healthy?) 
  • What did I do that was not helpful? (e.g., did I isolate, skip morning prayer, eat my body weight in cheese, get bangs, or try to control the situation or fix things that were not mine to control or fix?)

God made a way for me then, and He will make a way for me now.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial, he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The most effective way to put your circumstance in perspective is to go back to a previous trial and see how God showed up for you. This practice of gratitude is different than the secular world’s because it comes with a particular emphasis on the faithfulness of God. We kick the devil in the teeth and strengthen our faith when we can look at the hard times and see how God came through for us. Evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past is the secret to persevering in the present. And so, in looking back, I ask myself:

  • How did God show up for me? (I write down the specific people, prayers, Scripture, acts of kindness, and conversations that sustained me.)

I’m stronger because of it.
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4).

Seasons of rest and refreshment are necessary for us to catch our breath, but the trials and tribulations offer us the opportunity to grow in faith and grace. Every battle is a test—God’s way of preparing us for what lies ahead. And so when I find myself amid a struggle, I look to the last time God called me to the frontline, and I ask myself:

  • What lesson did I learn from this?
  • What can I do now that I never thought I would have the courage to do because I went through that trial?
  • What graces have I received as a result?

Nobody likes to receive bad news, but in the words of Saint Rose of Lima, “Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.” 

May we remember this in our day of trouble.

Your Sister in Christ,
Laura

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