One Stupid Decision Away

By all accounts, Steve McNair, the Titans famed quarterback, was a gifted leader. He led the Titans to the playoffs four times and eventually to Super Bowl XXXIV. He was loved by teammates, fans, and the media. In Nashville, he was a local hero.

A Fork in the Road - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ilbusca, Image #3253553

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ilbusca

But off the field, his life gradually unraveled. He was arrested for DUI and illegal gun possession in 2003. Four years later, in 2007, he was again arrested for DUI, along with his brother-in-law. He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 and then retired in April 2008 at the age of 35.

Sadly, just one year later, he was found dead in a rented condominium in Nashville, along with his 20-year-old mistress. Eventually, the police determined that McNair’s girlfriend had shot him in his sleep and then killed herself. Their deaths were ruled a murder-suicide.

I don’t recount this tragic story to judge Steve McNair. We are all sinners. In the words of John Bradford, “But for the grace of God go I.”

But McNair’s story is a cautionary tale. It is a reminder that all of us are only one stupid decision away from destroying our lives and our legacy. It is sobering, isn’t it?

I doubt that McNair woke up one morning and thought, You know, I think I’ll have an affair with a woman nearly half my age. It will be fun for a few months. But then she’ll kill me, then herself. My wife and my four sons will spend the rest of their lives trying to forgive me.

No, we never have that kind of clarity at the beginning. Instead, we make some small decision. Perhaps for McNair, it was simply a choice to flirt with an attractive waitress at a restaurant he frequented. Then it snowballed from there.

One bad decision became two. Two became three. And eventually it cascaded into a violent, unexpected end. Twenty years from now, his family and friends will still be trying to get over his untimely—and unseemly—death.

But Steve is gone. What are the lessons for us? We still have choices ahead. I think there are at least five:

  1. We never make decisions in a vacuum. Everything matters. Our words and actions will echo into eternity.
  2. One moment of indiscretion will be remembered forever. It can wipe away a lifetime of good deeds, all of which will be forgotten.
  3. We are all vulnerable to lapses in judgment. If we think we are not, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
  4. We need to build a support system of family and friends who will care enough to challenge us when we veer off course.
  5. We need to live our lives on-purpose. In my experience, the best way to do this is to create a life plan and review it frequently. If you don’t have a road map, you could end up anywhere.

As humans, we have the privilege of determining our legacy. We can decide how we want to be remembered. But this is not a single choice; it is a series of choices. It’s never too late to change course and make your life count.

Question: How do you want to be remembered? What decisions do you need to make today to move yourself toward that outcome? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://levittmike.wordpress.com levittmike

    We can go from hero to goat in an instant.  One bad decision can impact a lot of things/people/events.  We need our Daily Bread every day, so that in our walk in life, we make the best choices.

  • Andy

    If it’s never too late to change the course of your life, then I think it’s hard to call it one stupid decision. I think it’s more of a mindset than a single decision. The chain reaction is a result of the mindset.

  • Jwmonty72

    I can appreciate the idea that decisions we make have lasting affects on us and others. The problem I have is that we have no way of knowing the ripple that is created. Perhaps we do with our immediate family and friends, but after that not really. As to the results for eternity, I am not sure we have any way of knowing if there is a cause and effect relationship. Seeking God’s will is pretty tenuous, at best. Perhaps just using good common sense is God’s will.  

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  • mlukaszewski

    Absolutely haunting and true.

    Yet for those of those who have made tragic mistakes, God’s grace and mercy are new every morning.  We cannot erase sin’s consequences, but at the heart of the Gospel is renewal and the ability to start fresh.

  • http://www.trochia.org/ines-franklin/ Ines Franklin

    Mike, this reminder is so needed by all of us. The wrong direction starts with our mind, then our eyes and soon our feet.  It doesn’t take long before the ending of the story goes far darker than the preview.  For some of us, were it not for the grace of God, there would be no legacy to speak of.  We’re truly blessed if we are given a chance to rebuild our reputation. It’s much easier not to deviate.

    We must bear in mind the words of wisdom from Proverbs 4:10-27 NIV:

    Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom  and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;  when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone tumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

    Sweet as honey!

  • http://www.cindyfinley.com/ Cindy Finley

    How do I want to be remembered … Great question.  More than any other accolade, I want to be remembered as a wife and  mom who lived wholeheartedly for Jesus.

  • http://twitter.com/ThomasTJTrent Thomas (TJ) Trent

    Simply illustrates the point “We are all one step away from stupid.” -John Maxwell

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  • Mark Randall

    So true. So true!

  • Dorci

    I hope to be remembered, first and foremost, as someone who loved God with all her heart, mind, soul and strength. I’ve made many mistakes in my lifetime, some of them big ones. And by God’s grace I’m still here. I’d like to think I’ve grown up since the days of being young and stupid, but I know that unless I keep my focus on Jesus, I’m still capable of turning down the wrong road. One thing I’ve learned is that we usually never make one bad decision that takes us under in a sea of good ones. We are given warnings. In the case of Steve McNair, one of his first warnings was his first dui. Second warning: second dui (although I’m sure there were many others). Just like we give our children warnings, God gives us warnings when we’re veering off onto the wrong path. We can ignore them and continue on, or heed them and turn back. Hopefully, with age we learn to heed a little quicker. And hopefully we teach our children to do the same.

  • http://www.englishclubpro.com/ Akmal Akbarov

    I want to be remembered as a loving and caring father, husband, son, teacher and blogger. )) Thanks Michael for yet another inspirational blog post ))

  • http://www.hustleorbust.com/ Mark Olivito

    Awesome, if not sobering post! Decisions (good OR bad) have a tendency to compound over time. Considering legacy daily is one small way to tilt the odds in your favor, you lay it out well in the life plan doc you have generously given away. Thank you!

  • http://www.judiholler.com/ Judi

    I love this post! Thanks for the wonderful reminder. One of my favorite quotes also reminds me every day that WE have a choice and that our choices determine our altitude in life. I hope this inspires you like it inspires me:

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. And in that space is the POWER to choose your response. And in your response lies your growth and freedom.”- Viktor Frankl

  • danieltroutman

    This is a powerful post. It is so true. It’s scary to realize that one bad decision can undo so much hard work. This post scares me in a good way. Thanks for being bold enough to talk about this issue.

  • Sherri L. Bartin

    Awesome post.

  • Scott Milnes

    Excellent article, Michael. I agree, and often say that every decision is a spiritual decision. From what we eat and drink, to how we spend our time and money, all these decisions impact our direction- and therefore our destiny. Keep up the great work, and may God continue to bless you and your family!

  • Jeneen Jefferson

    I want to be remembered as a great mother, a great wife, a super confidant. Also a woman who had great compassion for people and loved without reservation. I want to be remembered as an inspiration to all, whether I am speaking and teaching, through my books or just in regular conversation.

  • Jhing Ayco

    I agree on the importance of having a life plan and most specially living a life with a purpose it is our very guide to making better life decisions and always be on the right track.

  • Cathy Pullins

    There is something more, Christ followers believe that Christ died for our sins –all of them–the small ones and the big ones. We refuse his great gift when we hold onto the guilt he gave his life to remove. PEOPLE do as you wrote — forget your good deeds but GOD will forget your mistakes too. He only requires that you accept his forgiveness and get back on the right path. Today and any day. Spread the Good News.

  • revreaves

    Very good words. Just one personal pet peeve — the use of the phrase “but for the grace of God go I” really annoys me.