Train Wreck – How To Rebuild Your Life After Driving It Off The Rails

train wreck

Is your life a train wreck? Have bad choices made your life a smoldering ruin of what it used to be? Do you wonder if you’ll ever be whole and happy again? Then let’s talk. I know something about it.

My Own Train Wreck

At age 27 I was the stay-at-home mother of three small children and wife of the Chairman of Deacons of the church we were deeply involved in. Our marriage was on autopilot – mechanically propelled in a current of responsibilities to kids, career, and church. I had no idea how vulnerable that made it.

One late summer day, I was taken by surprise by a confession of love from a mutual friend of my husband’s and mine. It was surprising, but also flattering. After thinking about it awhile, I did what I should have: I told my husband that this man (also married) was in love with me.

My husband laughed in my face. He said I was “ridiculous” and only imagining it.

Then I did what I shouldn’t have. I gave myself permission to wipe that mocking laugh off his face. I flung myself into a brief but sinful affair.

Let’s just say I didn’t think that strategy through. People rarely do when they’re motivated by a stew of resentment, pride, and selfishness. Nevertheless, foreseen or not, the consequences rippled longer and more broadly than I could have imagined.

My reputation was in ashes. I destroyed the family security my children knew. My church – core of all my friendships – invited me to attend elsewhere. And if my husband had little inclination to champion our marriage before I became damaged goods, he had none afterward. He vacillated, for a few years, between leaving me and staying for the children’s sake. He moved our family to a new state and divorced me there.

It wasn’t my plan to be figuring it out as a working single mother in a strange place with no support system. It was beyond stressful. My train was wrecked.

Taking Steps Forward

That happened nearly three decades ago. Today I still bear faint scars of my wreck, but I’m whole and happy. And I gladly share with you the path I took from there to here in the hope you will reach the same place.

First Step: Take a brutally honest look at how you ran off the rails. Of course, no one operates in a vacuum, but blaming others for our reactions condemns us to a life of playing the victim. There will always be people who don’t act according to our expectations. Deal with them according to wisdom not counter-productive folly. However, if you’re the kind of person who never accepts responsibility, stop reading this and go buy a comic book. It’ll be all the same.

Second Step: Repent. The primary One offended by our sin is God. If you don’t understand your accountability to Him, your present train wreck will not compare to the one in your future. (Because a holy God must judge sin or he’s not good.) If you do understand, put feet to your words of repentance. Apologize, where possible, to those you have wronged and hurt.

Third Step: Apply reality to your expectations. Just because you’ve apologized doesn’t mean people will forgive you. You don’t control that. Or just because people want to forgive you doesn’t mean they’ll trust you again immediately. They probably shouldn’t.

Restoration is a process, not an event. And you should think in terms of years for it to be complete, not days or weeks. That’s the hard truth of it.

Fourth Step: Let your train wreck affect your life. I know this runs counter to what others advise. They say, “Forgive yourself. Forget your past and move on.” Well, I’m not saying we should wallow in it. Wallowing in a puddle of shame is simply another variety of self-absorption.Wallowing in a puddle of shame is simply another variety of self-absorption. Click To Tweet

But I know of no quicker way to repeat the mistakes of the past than by forgetting them. So use them. Use them until you’ve wrung every bit of lesson out of them for your own benefit as well as for others. Warn others where the weak trestle bridges are that end in a train wreck. Otherwise, yours is wasted.

Fifth Step: (I can only address this to those who nail down step #2) Look for the good that will become evident over time. I’ve always said I wouldn’t repeat or trade my train wreck for a million dollars. It was simultaneously my undoing and my refining.

I needed an ax taken to my character because nothing subtle uncovers insidious pride. The shame and consequences of running my own life off its rails made me less judgmental, more compassionate, and a tad bit less selfish. But mostly, it made me more obedient to God. Obedience to God has never led me to regret it. Not once. It’s how we keep our life on its rails, for now and forever.

(If you’re thinking of having an affair, here are four more things to think about.)

train wreck