I’m Not Controlling (I Just Like My Latte Extra Hot)
I know I ended our last session with the assignment to read chapters 3 AND 4, but it turns out there’s just too much to think about and absorb in each one. So let’s just look at 3 this week.
So this week we’re talking about the invisible force we call CONTROL. How often do our lives feel “out of control?” And how many times have you jokingly (or not so jokingly) called one of your friends a “control freak?” We toss around the word ‘control’ a lot, but even more so…we’re really good at trying to control the circumstances and people around us.
I know I am! God really got hold of me one weekend when I was at spiritual retreat. He most pointedly showed me how much I tried to control my husband, especially his spiritual life. It was a humbling experience and became a real turning point for me…and my marriage. It was the beginning of my lifelong journey surrendering control to God. It’s a daily letting go, and this chapter has helped me to see my “control journey” is a long way from being over! Guess I’ll keep my bags packed.
Right off the bat, Nicole points out that this control thing is really about power — that “power we have over the course of our lives and over people in them.” The truth is we live in a constant tension. We never really know how much we’re supposed to control.
Too much control and we coerce and manipulate, thinking this is how we love people. Too little control and we abdicate our own influence and responsibility to be a loving force in the world.
What is our responsibility and what is not? What does God require from us and what is He going to do Himself? How exactly do we love someone without controlling him or her?
Nicole helps us unpack this, starting with a look at where our control originates. She identifies three factors that determine our own relationship with control:
- Our relationship with control is fueled by our beliefs.
- Control is inextricably tied to our understanding of God’s work in the world.
- Most of all, control is about our sin nature.
BELIEFS–those rules for life; the fuel that determines our actions and our feelings. For me I think this boils down to looking beyond action and reaction to what the cause is behind them. Nicole’s example was her own irritation at her messy garage and husband. When she stopped to analyze why she was reacting that way, she realized it was because she BELIEVED it was her husband’s job to keep the garage tidy. She could further analyze why that was her belief, but it was the actual belief — that underlying fuel — that caused her to feel the irritation. “That invisible rule had power over my attitude and my emotions.”
OUR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S WORK IN THE WORLD–This is where it gets a little deep. “Our thoughts about control become what we believe about God.” Whoa. So here’s where we drop the “T” word, theology. As Christians, we need to identify what we believe about God. We need our theology. In a most basic belief system, we need to know if we think God is in control or not. It might seem easy to say, “God is in control.” But how does that change for you when something terrible, awful happens? Was that terrible awful under God’s control?
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. … God does not treat our wounds lightly. … He is a surgeon–a healer.
When our theology says that God is not in control, we tend to attempt taking control of circumstances, of people. When we can build into our theology that God IS in control–even when life doles out its worst or evil seems to have won out–we can let go of control. We can trust Him. We can claim the truths of Scripture over every circumstance and trust that the God who loves us WILL work things out for good, that there will be “beauty that results from our trouble.”
SIN NATURE–Sin. It’s anything we do that separates us from God. We miss the mark. We choose something else over God. “Control–how much is ours, how much is His–is often linked to this sin nature.” In other words, we each have a default, our go-to response when handling life. But as Proverbs (14:12) points out, what seems right to man is actually the way of death. Too often when we think about sin, we think about all those bad things that we should not to do. But Jesus turned that way of thinking upside-down and told us that what we should be doing is loving others first and most. The crazy thing is that “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.
What do we do with all this info?
We go to God. We wait for Him. We put our trust in Him. And we recognize the truth of who He is, AND we recognize the truth of who we are.
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.
Maybe this chapter feels heavy because…well, it is! This all feels like academia…theory kind of stuff. I like practical, life applicable. But the truth is if we don’t take the time to understand these TRUTHS about God and about ourselves, we can’t get to the life application. We won’t understand the WHY in order to get to the HOW.
In this chapter Nicole shares an incredible example of a woman who has those “control freak” tendencies, and when you look into her past you can understand why. I hope you have the book so you can hear her story. But it’s one line that Nicole uses in describing this woman’s situation that really got me…
THE VERY THING SHE’S TRYING TO CONTROL IS REALLY CONTROLLING HER.
Let that sink in!
When I look at my life…past and present…and I’m really honest with myself, I know how very true this is indeed. Oh. My.
Here’s another good line:
“Often control is the factor behind why you think, act, and feel in ways that seem irrational and unpredictable.”
“Loving others is harder when your primary concern is maintaining command over your own circumstances.”
Nicole is giving us much food for thought. I think she’s giving us insight and perspective to lay the foundation for our how-to next week. One other tool she gives us is a Control Freak Assessment. It’s a quick 11-statement look-see into our controlling tendencies.
The short of it is we tend to either have the “pawn” mentality or the “king.” Think chess.
Pawns feel like the “reins of control are held by someone or something outside” them…like pawns on a chessboard who only move one space at a time, who are expendable with no real control. They tend to think, “I can’t control that in every area of life.” While pawns are typically laid back, spontaneous, flexible, and less likely to try to manipulate situations for their gain, they are also more likely to be stressed and depressed.
Kings feel they need to maintain a firm grip on their world, and will usually think, “What happens to me is my own doing.” While kings take more responsibility for their actions, have a greater sense of influence, and might be more orderly and scheduled, they often run into opposition or push-back as they try to rule in domains that don’t belong to them. That would be the clash between belief and reality. And often that leads kings to just try harder.
I landed somewhere in the middle, but could think of people on either end of the control spectrum. Nicole noted that many of us are likely not fully pawns or fully kings. But it is in the analysis of our control-natures that we start to reveal MORE.
Oh yes, more! Fun things like fear and pride.
Turns out that beyond personality and past experiences, fear and pride motivate our control issues MORE.
Fear says, I must do these things so that nothing bad happens. … Pride says, I know how my life should go. I deserve this. This is what should come my way.
Nicole goes on to say that pride disguises itself as common sense and knowledge and hard work. Pride keeps us “king of our lives.” And…pride also can disguise itself as perfectionism. Ouch. Maybe I’m more king than I want to admit.
So there’s a pawn and king in each of us. That means all of us need “the space and courage to honestly face our beliefs about control.” We can ask ourselves, “What hinders our relationship with God?” We can…no, MUST…lay down our own agendas and plans at the foot of the cross…at the foot of THE King. Then ask Him to have His way in our lives.
Space Bar — “God, would you equip me with the ability to know what is mine to handle and the strength to trust You with the rest?”
Heavy stuff. Much deeper into to the world of Control than I expected to go. But this is good. We’re not just doing superficial, feel-good stuff here. We’re about transformation. Life change. And for that kind of change to happen, we have to deal with our issues. We need to dig deep, seek God, and be honest with ourselves. Then we have to choose to let go and let God.
You in? Yea! Me too. So…chapter 4 next week. We’ll start getting into the HOW. We’re gonna learn how to “surrender the kung-fu control grip!”
Breathing in His grace,