I have control issues. Always have.
I’m tempted to control just about everything in my life. Having things my way makes me feel safe and gives me the illusion of order. I schedule my day to run seamlessly so I can meet all my deadlines and accomplish tasks with flawless precision. And I’m ashamed to say my penchant for control also finds its way into my relationships with the ones I love the most.
Convinced I know what’s best, I secretly feel like the planets align when my day flows well.
Even though I know my need to control is rooted in pride and is a response to fear, it is still a hard habit to shake because there is a payoff. By ordering what’s around me, I can avoid facing the feeling of insufficiency that hovers just below the surface.
Trying to regulate everything, however, is exhausting and can wound relationships. On my worst days, this hypervigilance has me oscillating between outbursts of anger and judgment, followed by the inevitable sting of shame and regret that is sure to occur when the realization hits me that I’ve ‘done it again.’ There is no love for myself or others in this type of control.
I’ve long sought freedom from this ailment, but it’s been slow going. However, I do see hints of progress.
A few days ago, an unexpected twist in my day reminded me that my perceived lack of control doesn’t worry God, but is actually woven into His mysterious plan.
I had meant to leave the house much earlier, but had gotten distracted with all manner of inconsequential activities. Chiding myself for being so unorganized and inefficient, I had finally gathered my things and was heading out the door when the phone rang.
I often ignore calls on our landline, but I felt compelled to take this one. Without looking at the number, I picked up the receiver and immediately recognized the voice on the other end.
It was my neighbor, Pat. He has ALS and rarely calls, so when he does, I drop everything.
Pat is one of the greatest examples of humility, dignity and strength under pressure I’ve ever encountered. A successful psychologist, avid golfer and accomplished guitarist, Pat was diagnosed with ALS over 20 years ago. Determined to fight the illness well, he has faced it with fierce intentionality and has adapted to his new normal like no one I have ever known. Although eventually forced by his disease to abandon activities he once loved, he chose not to be defined by his limitations. Rather, his counter attack was to develop a keen talent for watercolor painting. Through the sale of his artwork, he has raised thousands of dollars to benefit ALS research. He continues to counsel others through email, organizes his friends in an annual fundraising event to fight ALS, takes art classes, maintains his great sense of humor and is loved by many.
Pat’s in a wheelchair and has limited mobility. Although still quite independent, he will unapologetically ask for help when he needs it. I love that about him. When I arrived that day, I found him on the edge of his bed needing a hand to get into his wheelchair. He instructed me how to position his legs, situate the wheelchair and steady the walker so he could make the transition. In a matter of minutes, he was set for the morning and I was on my way.
Had my original plans gone as ordered, I would have missed the chance to help my friend. What had at first looked to me like a morning wasted, suddenly turned into a divine appointment.
In that simple transaction, God put my eyes back on Himself and off my failures. In a moment, He reminded me that He’s good with who I am, and that if nothing else of consequence was achieved that day according to my schedule, the most important thing had already been accomplished.
As I am writing this, it all seems so simple. Just let go and let God run the universe. Walk by faith, not fear. Take off pride and embrace humility. However, I struggle every day to resist the temptation to control my world and hide my weakness.
When I think of Pat, I want to learn from him. There is no shame in being real, and in the moments I find myself vulnerable, I want to allow others to help me instead of hiding from them. In doing so, I respect myself and others, and leave control safely in the hands of the only One who knows what to do with it.
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! –Proverbs 3:5-7
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board. You can read more of her writing on her blog: tamaracarpenter.com