Have you ever done something really stupid? Or do you know someone who has done something really stupid, or who is currently doing something really stupid?

I’m not talking about the mistakes, blunders, mishaps, oversights, slip-ups, errors, and omissions that we commit on a daily basis. We all stumble in many ways due to our human limitations. We are all indebted to those who work with us, live with us, and who love us anyway for their grace and patience toward us.

I’m not talking about the stupid purchase you made, or how dumb it was to lift that heavy box all by yourself, or how insane it was to give your wife a vacuum cleaner for Valentine’s Day. I’m not talking about how crazy you were for attempting to save money by repairing your car on your own and how you managed to turn a $200 problem into a $2000 problem.

No, I’m talking about really, really stupid stuff. I’m talking about life-changing, relationship-altering, person-damaging, trauma-making, fate-tempting, risk-taking, consequence-inviting, death-welcoming, soul-damning stuff. Really, really stupid stuff.

However, when we are in the midst of making such stupid choices we are completely blind. We react to stimuli, respond to a situation, or pursue a course of action as if our behavior is perfectly normal, natural, logical, and reasonable. King Solomon wrote, “There is a way that appears to be right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

We’ve all seen people on this road and we’ve shouted, “Are you freaking crazy? Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?” To some degree, we’ve all been on this road. But later, after we have emerged from the fog, with 20/20 hindsight, we’ve said,

  • “Why did I say that?”
  • “Why did I do that?”
  • “Why did I go there?”
  • “How could I have let it go so far?”
  • “Why did I give in?”
  • “Why did I tell that lie, use that word, take that item, view that image, indulge that temptation, use that tone, lose control, revisit that habit, relapse into that addiction?”
  • “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • “Was I out of my mind?”
  • “Was I insane?”  

The answer is a resounding “yes.” You were out of your mind and you were insane. You can keep searching for answers if you want to, but you will find no good reason to explain or excuse your stupidity by using a rational or logical approach. Nothing about what you did was rational or logical. Sin is stupid. If we saw sin for what it really was no one would ever do it. Sin and Satan work through us by deceiving us and they have a willing ally in our own deceitful hearts.

You will never be able to explain why you did what you did in such a way so that others will understand your actions. They’ll never get it. They are also puzzled as to how someone like you could say, or do, or even think something so stupid. They will say things like, “What were you thinking?” And your response will likely be, “I wish I knew.”

What is really going on?

As human beings, we are often guilty of allowing our unbridled feelings and emotions rob us of our common sense. While it’s futile to search for rational explanations for stupidity, we can identify triggers to our stupidity and understand their root causes. Ideally, what we do starts with what we believe, descends into how we feel, and then is expressed in how we behave. In theory, right beliefs should lead to right feelings and then right actions.

However, the middle step,“feelings” are super strong. Sometimes feelings, especially painful ones, can be so strong they can trump our beliefs, change our beliefs, and even cause us to forget our beliefs. Painful feelings can bypass our minds and rule our bodies. Our blood will literally abandon our brains and rush to our muscles to engage our fight or flight reflexes. When we feel pain or threatened, we go into survival mode and we start acting like stupid animals. We panic. We might even behave in bizarre ways. In such moments, our brains don’t really care about doing what’s right or even doing what is sane. All we care about is protecting ourselves from pain. This doesn’t excuse the  behavior. It just explains it.

One of the Psalmists, Asaph, went through a time in his life when he felt abandoned by God, angry, and jealous. He writes, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (Psalm 73:21-22)

I can’t speak for you, but I have identified six “pain points” in my own life that serve as triggers for brutish and ignorant behavior. When I look back at times in my life when I have been out of my mind, or when I find myself doing dumb things that are out of step with the person I want to be, I can usually trace the threads back to moments like these. Maybe you’ll be able to relate and recognize these or similar areas of vulnerability in your own life so that you can be more watchful, alert, and avoid allowing them to hijack your life and cause you to do the really, really stupid stuff.

  • When I feel afraid.
  • When I feel alone.
  • When I feel abandoned.
  • When I feel ashamed.
  • When I feel angry.
  • When I feel anxious.

If I’m not practicing emotional self-awareness, these six feelings have the potential to drive me into preservation mode. Let me define what preservation mode is: doing stupid stuff. These six conditions have the potential to drive me to numb my feelings in ways that are not helpful, but hurtful. Rather than relieve my anger, shame, or fear, my brutish attempts to relieve these painful feelings only lead to greater anger, greater shame, and greater fear.

I have found that people who do really, really stupid stuff usually have a deadly cocktail of several of these painful feelings working together in combination with one another. Sometimes it’s been ruminating for quite some time. Then there will be a tipping point where God seems distant and irrelevant. Their beliefs are the last thing on their mind. Escaping these feelings becomes so important to them that they are willing to crash through moral and ethical boundaries to escape. I know that when I am feeling overwhelmed with these painful emotions, I feel compelled to do anything to find relief–even things that cause greater pain.

  • What is the greatest regret of your life? Does it have something to do with one of these six?
  • Are you currently living in the midst of these feelings right now? Do you find yourself considering options that you have never considered before?
  • Think about times when you do stuff you hate (like yell at your kids, look at porn, drink too much, binge on food or Netflix, are rude to your wife, etc.) Were those actions attempts to dull, numb, or medicate one or more of these feelings?
  • Think about someone you know who has done or who is currently doing something really stupid? Could they be feeling one of these six things?

You must identify those areas in your life which are threats and which make you more prone to stupidity. It starts there, but it doesn’t end there. In part two, we’ll talk about some strategies to deal with these emotions that don’t include sabotaging your life and derailing your future.