The First Thing to Do When You’ve Totally Screwed Up

There it is. Things are about as bad as they could possibly get. You have failed in spectacular fashion and you just want to crawl under a rock and die. You just got fired from your job. You cheated on your spouse and now you are sleeping alone on a friend’s couch. You just fell off the wagon and aren’t sure you have the energy to climb back on. You missed the big deadline now your funding is being cut. Your business just went under. The bank has initiated foreclosure proceedings. You now have to break the news to your family that you are homeless. You are feeling a mix of shock, shame, and confusion. What do you do? What is the first thing to do? Start over? Lash Out? Give up?

How you answer that question says a lot about you. Some people’s first reaction would be “I need a drink.” Some people go into a deep funk, staying in their pajamas and watching soap operas all day. After the Wall Street crash that ushered in the Great Depression, bankers and stock brokers around the country jumped out the window to their deaths. Other people want to punch somebody and get revenge. Too many take a rifle into work the next day and after killing a dozen people commit suicide by cop. Beware the person who has nothing to lose. Is this the end of the world? Is life over? Hardly, but it can feel that way. What you choose to do now will either begin to make things better or much worse. Choose carefully. Here is the absolute first thing you should do:

Step 1: Breathe.

That’s right. Just breathe. As long as you are breathing, you know you are still alive. Don’t do anything. Just breathe. Don’t panic. Panic is a deep uncontrollable fear. The choices we make out of fear are rarely good ones and almost always make things worse. Feelings can’t really be trusted at a time like this, so let’s calm down so we can think. You need more oxygen in your bloodstream and a lot less adrenaline. Just breathe. Don’t do anything right now. There will be time to rebuild things, but that time is not now.

Step 2: Open up to God.

Yeah, I know, you are too upset to pray right now. I get it. But you are a follower of Jesus. You have given your life to Him so this is His problem, too. Your life is His life. Step one of prayer is to be completely honest with God about what is going on inside and around you. Get it out. You don’t need to solve anything yet. You don’t have to understand it. Just get it out.

Step 3: Open Up to A Person You Can Trust.

Now find someone you can trust who will listen to you without judging you. Repeat Step 1 with this person. Just get it out.

Step 5: Grab Onto Reality.

Now that you are giving vent to your feelings you can begin to make sense of the facts. I assure you, unless you just accidentally hit the red button in the Oval Office that launches our entire nuclear arsenal, this truly is not the end of the world. (You haven’t, have you?) Your life is not over, so don’t throw it away. It may be broken into pieces and is unrecognizable to you, but it is not beyond repair. This may be serious, but it is probably not lethal, which means it will only be as bad as you decide it will be. Life does go on. We have to be equally realistic about the challenges we face. This will take hard work. It will be unpleasant. If this crash and burn is your fault, you have to own that. Take responsibility for your mistakes, but also take responsibility for your rehabilitation.

Step 5: Make a Choice and Do Something

So what are going to do? Are you going to rebuild or are you going to give up and die? Either way, make a choice and get on with it. It is so tempting to just sit in the mud and complain about how awful and unfair it all is. Red, Andy DuFresne’s cell mate in “Shawshank Redemption” liked to say “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Exactly. Complaining without seeking a solution is tedious to listen to over time, and is a great way to lose the company of those supportive friends from step 3. There are things in life we cannot change. We have to eventually accept them or drive ourselves to despair. Accepting the things we cannot change is not nothing. It is hard work that makes healing possible so don’t discount it. Also, we must take the responsibility to change the things we can change. There is always something we can do. Do it. There is always a choice we can make. Make it. You serve a God who cares more about where you are going than where you have been. Without death, there can be no resurrection. This is most certainly not the end of the world. God’s best work comes in seasons just like this. Hang in there.


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