Self Care & Acceptance

Control: When Life Frays and You Grip Tighter

April 13, 2016

The best thing I can say about today is that I didn’t shout and everybody lived. Today was a spinning top. My daughters, 1 and 3, ran around like they’d been slipped piles of sugar with a side of cocaine. Every book in the bookshelf ended up on the floor. Countless items were pulled off the bathroom counter and strewn all over our bedroom. My one-year-old’s fascination with opening dresser drawers reached new heights today as she also delighted in pulling things out of the drawers and throwing them up and down the hallway. And it all happened so fast! Every time I did something glamorous – like go to the bathroom, put some dishes in the dishwasher or try to put away that laundry, I’d turn back around to a new level of chaos and disorder. In looking back on the day, I realize my girls were bored and seeking activity, attention and connection. I just wanted order and control. In short, my children acted like children and, in response, I almost lost my ever-loving-mind.

The Impulse to Control Tells Us Something

As I struggle to have grace for myself, I have to remember that there is more to consider here than simply, “We all have those days. It’s all good. Move on.” That would be an easier response, and some days, that’s absolutely the right response. Today, however, it would be incomplete. There is another layer that needs noticing. I control (or try to) when I’m lacking in peace. When my internal environment (read: thoughts and feelings) are swirly and messy and ugly and scary, I attempt to regain some illusion of order by trying to shove my external world into the neat lines and box I dream it belongs in. The problem is that, first, in almost all instances, these external things aren’t mine to control anyway and what’s more, I’m not actually addressing the real problem. It’s just a band-aid, an illusion, a fantasy, a mirage. Even when I manage to make things go the way I want them to in the moment, I have no yet addressed the heart condition underlying the compulsion to control in the first place. We, as a culture and as women, need to stop pretending that it’s okay to try to control things that aren’t ours to control. I’ve called myself a “control freak” a few thousand times, I’m sure, but I’m starting to rethink that moniker. Embracing the cheeky label makes light of what is really a more serious situation. It’s not cute to respond to stress by trying to commandeer the world around me. In truth, it’s inappropriate and unhealthy.

…we have to stop pretending that it’s okay to try to control things that aren’t ours to control.

We’re Not in Control Anyway…

We also need to acknowledge how little control we really have. I have been grappling with this issue of order and control a lot lately; no doubt this is ushered in by the major changes that will be ushered in with the arrival of this new baby I’m carrying. It’s unknown, unpredictable and is sure to affect almost all elements of my existence on a daily and life-long level. In response to that looming and undulating anxiety, I find myself feeling more and more frustrated with all the areas I cannot dictate and regulate in the rest of my life. Even as a SAHM mom with two very small children, I am not in control of much. I am in charge, but that is much different than being in control. I’m sure you can think of a dozen contexts in which the same paradigm holds true. You may have the authority in a boardroom, but you can’t make people listen – let alone follow through on your directions or suggestions. We are all responsible for paying our bills and our taxes, but if there’s an error in some other place in the pipeline, we can’t make that go away. And we certainly can’t always prevent prevent it. As the mommy in this house, I can set a routine, do all the legwork to keep things functioning as smoothly as possible, but I certainly cannot make my kids sleep, listen, eat, obey or even enjoy themselves. My role – as our most of our roles in life – is one of an influencer, not a dictator. I can foster and encourage an environment, a culture, an idea and a relationship – but I am almost never the one solely responsible for what happens as a result. Add to all that the reality that, in all things, God is truly in control and you can see how our lives that try to keep things in line are awash in wasted effort.

..and That’s Okay.

The last thing we need to realize and truly accept is that it is meant to be this way. Pastor Rick Warren has said that our main problem as people is that we are always trying to be God. At first, this struck me as somewhat overstated and probably exaggerated, but the more I consider this thought (and I first heard it almost 10 years ago), the more I have to agree. A major factor in of most of my personal discomfort is that I want to be in control. I want things to go the way I think they should. I want other people to do what I want them to do. I don’t want things to happen that I think should not – and on and on and on. In truth, what I want underneath most of these impulses is simply to avoid the feelings that rise in me when situations are scary, when people are hurtful and when circumstances discourage my heart. Yet, without all the fear, the anxiety, the hurt and the despair, I would seldom have a reason to come to Jesus on my knees and seek His most faithful tender embraces. Without the things that some part of me tries so desperately to avoid, I would easily forget how much I need my Savior. I would, no doubt, believe that any ease I experienced was a result of my own masterful handiwork and I would lose sight entirely of the one who gives me life and breath and meaning and, when I let Him, true peace.

With white knuckles, we grip at the world trying to feel like we are in control. Yet, we are never in control – and that is a good thing, a gift from God.

With white knuckles, we grip at the world trying to feel like we are in control. Yet, we are never in control – and that is a good thing, a gift from God. I dare not forget that if, for one insane day, all the things I have wanted to control actually fell within my might, none of it would turn out the way I want. In my core, when I stop and have a sane and peaceful moment, I know that I really do not know what is best for me. I have seen many times over that God orders my life and the world around in ways that are far beyond anything I could have imagined. So I keep reminding myself that I am not God, and that this is a very good thing. When we look at the fraying and stormy edges of our lives, we must remember that responding with attempts to manage are not only futile, but simply delay our peace. We need to let go of our busy attempts at dominion and retreat into the steadfast love of a Father who not only longs to pacify and soothe our souls, but is more able than any other. He is the one who truly is in control, and when we let God be God, we can release our anxiety in safety. We can connect with the people around us – even in the darker places in our hearts, and we can find the communion and peace He is always working to provide for us.

His ways are perfect. Let’s live – especially in the daily – remembering this truth. When the impulse to grip tighter, to hunker down and to control creeps up, lay it down at His feet. If you are like me, you will get to do this again and again. That’s okay. We are imperfect, but progressing. The outcropping of freedom and peace that will come as a result of this surrender will be worth it – and not just for you.

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