My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near- Job 17:9-10
I am a recovering control freak.
I am convinced some of my issues with control are partly due to the personality I was born with. My Mother was fond of reminding me that my first word was “no” and that word was quickly followed by my first complete sentence: “I will do it myself”. I am no expert in the field of child psychology, but I’m pretty sure that story indicates I was born with a strong desire to be in complete control of just about everything (Psalm 51:5).
As I got older I grew quite philosophical when it comes to the issue of control. It hit me in my late thirties (I’m a slow learner) that control in this life is nothing more than an illusion. A person can have all the resources in the world, make nothing but really great choices and get all of their ducks in a nice neat little row. Then one really bad day can come along, wipe away a lifetime of good choices and completely decimate all the ducks they worked so hard to put in that row (Job 1:1-22).
This last week was such a dumpster-fire that I wanted to throw all the spiritual and philosophical lessons I have learned about life, control and trusting God out the window. I was seriously tempted to cross out the recovering in the first sentence of this blog and boldly own my desire to control the whole stupid world.
Some of the things outside of my power to control that I would dearly love to control include the presidential elections, the spread of coronavirus (one of my kids works in a hospital), and the downward spiral of our society. On top of all those “global” issues I am wrestling with some seriously problematic family problems that show no signs of ever going away.
Just as I was preparing to jump into control-freak mode the Holy Spirit gently reminded me there are wiser and more productive ways to deal with life. Wisdom concerning this issue begins with recognizing and owning the following four truths:
There are things in life that cannot be fixed or even managed-
Because life is better and easier now than at any other time in human history; many Christians have bought into the lie that there is a fix for every problem in this life. Or an easy button that will magically empower us to manage all of life’s problems without any stress or struggle. There’s not. Unfortunately, Christians and non-Christians alike encounter all sorts of things in life that cannot be managed or fixed, like stupidity and evil. When we encounter those things, we must walk by faith and trust God to use stupid and evil things for His purposes and our growth (Hebrews 11:1-2, Romans 8:28)
Just because we can control something doesn’t mean we should-
Anytime I have attempted to control a person or an outcome without clear direction from God I have made a flaming-hot mess out of that situation. It’s important to remember that when we attempt to control things we have no business controlling we are essentially declaring with our actions that we do not really believe God is good or that He should be sovereign over people or outcomes. I am not advocating that Christians take on a “what will be will be” attitude towards life. I do believe there are times when we should proactively deal with issues but never without God’s clear direction and a really well thought out plan.
The only person you can really control is yourself-
Okay, so this is so basic and so obviously true there is no need to elaborate further.
Control breeds anxiety-
This point is full of paradoxes but it’s true. Taking control of situations that feel out of control ought to give us peace and quash our anxiety. Nonetheless, control freaks, even Christian control freaks are typically the most anxiety-ridden people on the planet. This is because Christians are commanded to trust God (Psalm 37:4-6, Psalm 32:10, Psalm 139:23-24, Proverbs 3:5-6) and control is the antithesis of trust. God is a respecter of our free will. When we choose to take control of anything other than ourselves God takes His hand off the wheel (metaphorically speaking) and lets us have our way. The anxiety we feel when we are the one “in complete control” is a direct result of spiritual disobedience and our foolhardy attempts to do something we will never be able to do. Letting go of the illusion we have control is one key to getting free from the bondage of anxiety.
Prayer is the answer to the conundrum of control. Every single time we pray about an issue we do two things. First, we loudly declare that we NEED wisdom (James 1:5). Prayer is admitting to ourselves and God that we don’t know everything there is to know and that we cannot make life work with our own idiotic efforts to control. Secondly, we go directly to the source of wisdom, knowledge and power to get the help we need to manage life (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:6, Proverbs 3:19).
This makes way more sense than the other alternatives.