control freak

Illusions and Poverty: The Best of a Life in Control

I have a confession. I am a control freak. I used to describe it as being well prepared and thorough, but let’s call it what it is. Having back-up plans for your back-up plan’s back-up plan is paranoia.

You could say it’s a lifelong illness. I remember hoarding coordinating work on group projects as a kid so everything could be done to my standards. Clearly, the other children were there to bring me down. I’d like to say I’ve been transformed, but I’ve only changed projects about polar bears to projects about policies and statistics. I’m the same, but I’ve found more politically correct ways to describe my obsessions.

I hate being out of control. It feels messy. Like I’m going to be swallowed up in the swirling vortex of chaos. Or like I’m treading water in a vast ocean with no sight of land, and if I don’t get sand under my feet soon, I’ll drown. If you know that feeling, you also know that you’ll do pretty much anything to get rid of it. You make back-up plans for your back-up plan. You stop or limit delegating. You manage deadlines. You organize until everything is in a neat little compartment. You influence others to your way of thinking. If all this fails or is impossible, and you cannot manipulate your external environment, you turn inward. For me, I convince myself I don’t care as much as I do, and that I’m not affected by another person’s actions. I withdraw and numb. I become overly serious and stoic. Empathy and care are replaced with curt replies, still civil enough to defend if needed.

Though these strategies still my immediate fear of chaos, I’ve been realizing that the apparent short-term gain is not worth the long-term loss. What seems like self-protection actually acts to impoverish. I cut myself off from the resources all around me. My numbing spreads to encompass all beauty, joy and possibility. It steals life, and the ability to love. Moreover, by trying to be in control, I live an illusion. The reality is everything is out of control. No one knows the future, and nothing we can do will ever change that. So, what’s the alternative?

In the midst of striving, I sense God asking, “do you trust me?” It’s a simple question, but my answer is fraught with complexities. To paraphrase a man who asked Jesus for healing – I trust; help my distrust (Mk. 9:24)! I’m thankful for Anne Lamott’s reminder that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” I don’t need to achieve a perfect state of trust (or control) before approaching Jesus. I need to come as I am, with all my fears, doubts, and chaos. I feel so unworthy, but I think that’s grace, right?

I’ve heard it said that you need to learn to live out of control, but I think that’s only half of the truth. You also need to learn to live knowing that God is in control. I’m still learning what that looks like, but here’s my thoughts so far. It’s delegating and accepting another right way to do things, even if it’s not your way. It’s pressing in and engaging vulnerably, even if there are no guarantees. It’s being honest with yourself and others about how much you do care, even if you’re not sure they care the same way. It’s acknowledging and experiencing pain, refusing to put up another wall. It’s praying, not my will, but yours be done (Lk. 22:42).

When I think about it, I know it’s going to cost me something. I also know it’s not going to cost near as much as attempting to maintain the illusion of control. I suppose it’s a choice. I know what I’m choosing. What about you?