I’m Not Controlling
I just like my latte extra hot
When I go into Starbucks, I want my order to be just right. I prefer that my latte be made with one percent milk, two shots of espresso, and two shots of vanilla. I like it low foam and extra hot. But that’s a little what you might call high maintenance, so I restrain myself from asking for all five at once!
The same invisible force that nudges me to test the barista’s memory—and patience—is at work in you right now. The force determines what you say and how you say it. It is the crayon that colors your past and will write your future. It is a complicating factor in your relationships with God and other people. And it requires constant tending. Yet my guess is that you’ve never thought very deeply about how this force works, when it formed, and where you really stand with it. That force?
We talk about people being control freaks when they try too hard to manage others. (Given my confession about my detailed latte preferences, you may have already correctly pegged me as one.) Some people think there is a right way to do things, and I happen to be one of them. Some-times it works out: I’m right and things go according to plan. But because life is more gray than black-and-white and because my internal rules don’t come anywhere close to my reality, many times I am wrong.
At the other extreme, we call people “out of control” when they do a poor job of managing them-selves. They frustrate friends and family members by their refusal to take responsibility and work toward positive change. Their understanding of control is completely different from mine, but it can result in just as many issues.
Another word for control is power; namely, the power we have over the course of our lives and over people in them. And why does this matter? Because my guess is that you, like me, have no idea exactly how much you are supposed to control. Too much control and we coerce and ma-nipulate, thinking this is how we love people. Too little control and we abdicate our own influ-ence and responsibility to be a loving force in the world. A misuse or misunderstanding of our own control is the issue that drives women crazy—crazy with exhaustion trying to manage every detail of life, or crazy with discouragement about the futility of life. What is our responsibility and what is not? What does God require from us, and what is he going to do himself? How ex-actly do we love someone without controlling him or her? And is there a way for us to under-stand God and our actions with a healthy view of control?
Let’s begin to answer these questions by considering three factors that determine our own rela-tionship with control:
1. Our relationship with control is fueled by our beliefs. Beliefs are our rules for life. They are often unspoken and sometimes unrecognized. They are the fuel that determines our actions and our feelings. You may have no idea why you get irritated at certain things your sister does or feel so much compassion for the homeless, but even when your feelings seem irrational, there’s a method to your madness.
Here’s an example: For years I would find myself irritated when our garage needed straighten-ing. I didn’t know why, but I’d grumble under my breath whenever bikes were askew or the floor needed sweeping. I remember once coming in with a grocery bag on one arm and the baby carrier on the other. I stepped over a kid’s toy and laid out a litany of complaints about my husband. Aloud. To myself. While kicking that kid’s toy. I was irritated at both the messy garage and my husband, but I had no idea why.
One day, while talking in a Bible study about belief systems, I made a discovery: I believed that cleaning up the garage was my husband’s job. Humor me—I have no idea why I didn’t recognize this earlier—probably because I was too busy kicking bikes and cursing. But my dad had always cleaned the garage in my house when I was growing up, so I naturally assumed that my husband would be the one to do the same in our house. Of course, I never told him that—I didn’t even realize I had that expectation! But that invisible rule had power over my attitude and my emo-tions.
2. Control is inextricably tied to our understanding of God’s work in the world. Have you ever thought, My life is spinning out of control? Just the use of the phrase betrays your thoughts about God’s authority.
Perhaps “out of control” is easier to say than “God’s in control,” especially when bad things happen to good people, when natural disasters kill thousands. Perhaps your theology doesn’t have room for a God who is, in fact, in control, even in the most brutal circumstances.
I do not take this topic casually. Whenever I am in a room of more than twenty women, I know at least one of them has suffered some kind of abuse at the hands of another. To say “God is in control” to a woman who is wrestling with a true taste of evil in her life is like giving a Band-Aid to someone who just had a leg cut off.
So often we come up against trouble, large or small, that leads us to believe that God is not in control, or that he has forgotten us, or that he’s punishing us. But Scripture tells us that God does not treat evil lightly. The prophet Jeremiah blasted the “religious” of his day who gave out these kinds of Band-Aids: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (6:14, NIV). God does not treat our wounds lightly. He does not hand out Band-Aids like a school nurse. He is a surgeon—a healer. He treats our past, present, and future with great care—more than we could even imagine.
When you struggle to reconcile your troubles and God’s role in them, don’t despair. Dealing with your issues has an incredible result: beauty. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist specializing in death and suffering, wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
The beauty that results from our trouble is one of God’s great scandals—who but he could trade our ashes for beauty, could make his power perfect in our weakness, and could cause everything to work together for good?
However, as we work through this struggle, we acknowledge that our thoughts about control be-come what we believe about God—and our view of God is what we project into our own rela-tionships. Take Julie: as a young girl she witnessed her sister severely injured in a car accident. She’s never reconciled where God was in that pain. And she doesn’t let anyone drive her chil-dren anywhere. Our view of God’s control is knotted together with the view we have of our own control.
3. But most of all, control is about our sin nature. Sin includes anything we do that separates us from a relationship with God. And control—how much is ours, how much is his—is so often linked to this sin nature. The proverb that begins with “There is a way that seems right to a man” continues “but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12, NKJV). Whoa. In a stark sentence, we see reality. We all have a default way of handling our lives, but this way has no life in it at all.
So often we think of sin as outright bad behavior—we use the Ten Commandments as a list of “things I don’t do,” like steal, murder, or commit adultery. But Jesus brought a whole new order to that checklist of rules when he told us what we should do by putting love first. Loving is something none of us do perfectly (or even well). Picture someone in your life who is hard to love. What would make him or her easier to love? My guess is that you think, If they would just do X or act Y, then I could love them better. You see, even in our love we exert control!
We don’t choose the circumstances that make us feel out of control—but we do choose the way we react. Because of sin, we often choose self-centered options as the way to escape or change our reality.
Our ways might seem like a good option, but the important truth is that they’re ours. God’s Word makes it clear that our ways do not equal his ways. God says, “My thoughts are completely different from yours” and “my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8).
To those who argue with him, he answers, “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:25, NASB). God sounds downright indignant in this passage, and I can’t blame him. Who are we to tell him how to do something when he’s the one who created us?
God has a way. And it’s not our way. His thoughts are completely different from and beyond our own. In that case, what hope do we have? Before you throw up your hands about ever making a right decision again, take in this promise from Isaiah 30:18-21:
The LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them. O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will respond instantly to the sound of your cries. Though the LORD gave you adversity for food and affliction for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes, and you will hear a voice say, “This is the way; turn around and walk here.”
What good news in the face of our own sin! What a promise God gives us about his intricate and intimate relationship with us! Rather than desperately seeking to control or passively ceding all control, we are invited to a deep place of contentment that balances our responsibility with God’s grace and guidance. When we find this place, we will neither try to dominate the world nor be helpless victims. This middle place isn’t free from pain, but it is full of peace. And it’s worth the work to find it!
Are You a Control Freak?
Think back over the last few weeks, and then answer each statement with a “T” for mostly true or an “F” for mostly false. You can probably think of some exceptions to either answer, so just go with your first instinct.
____1. I try not to plan too far ahead or get my hopes up because I can’t predict how things are going to turn out.
____2. I often think, If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
____3. I believe that if I work hard enough, the majority of the time I’ll get what I’m after.
____4. When I’ve figured out a certain way to do things, I like to tell people, because every-one wants a faster and more efficient way to get things done.
____5. Capable people who fail haven’t taken advantage of every opportunity.
____6. I often feel frustrated that life isn’t going my way.
____7. I often feel that what is going to happen will happen.
____8. People would say I have a stubborn streak.
____9. I prefer the driver’s seat (literally and figuratively).
____10. Other people’s messes bother me.
____11. Many unhappy things in people’s lives are out of their control.
This assessment offers you just one tool to help you evaluate your understanding of control. Consider your responses as you consider how you perceive control and what you can do about it.
Taken from She’s Got Issues: Seriously Good News for Stressed-Out, Secretly Scared Control Freaks Like Us by Nicole Unice. Copyright © 2012 by Nicole Unice. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.