Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's In Your Driver's Seat?

Control defined: to exercise restraining or directing influence over (regulate): to have power over (rule)...

In the past few months I've heard the struggles of many women who have been working through diverse issues in which one common theme seemed to resonate – CONTROL. So, I have been doing some speculating. Is control considered by most a positive or negative? Do we periodically take the time to examine the reasons and motivations behind our perceived need for it or lack thereof? Or, do we find ways to creatively justify it's use by simply renaming it something culturally more acceptable, more honorable, and more admirable? How much control is spiritually healthy? How much is excessive? Do we really have control over anything anyway? Personally, I've been feeling a nudge from the Lord to reveal a little of my own heart’s journey in my quest for answers that began over 22 years ago. So, here is a stab in the dark hoping some of what I share isn’t all in vain but rather encourages someone else to trust ALL to the One who truly is in FULL control at ALL times.

Some years back, many now, I would never, ever have admitted to being what some deem as a control freak. While externally I was not what most people would consider controlling, internally there were areas of my life I felt a great need to exclusively manage, and somehow, I had convinced myself with enough effort, I could. At that point in my life I was quite self-sufficient, or so I thought! However, once I became a pastor’s wife, I was rather blindsided by the many unspoken but always present expectations congregants had of ministry families. As a young wife, mother and pastor's wife who was trying to figure out her roles, the pressure I experienced in raising a family and living life from within a glass house  was incredible. Each misstep was open to public opinion, criticism, gossip and/or judgment. As a pastor’s wife, I was supposed to be impervious to criticism and each aspect of my personal life was open to public scrutiny. I was to be superwoman, super-spiritual and super-knowledgeable. I quickly came to the conclusion I was not as self-sufficient as I had allowed myself to believe nor did God intend me to be so.

It certainly didn't take long to start falling into the performance trap and subconsciously, somehow, control became the enemy's tool of choice along with a large dose of discouragement to keep me trapped. I didn't appear controlling, but I knew. I knew exactly what happened to me mentally, biologically, and spiritually when I began to feel events spiral out of my "control"...and what was worse was that I knew God knew, too! Oh, the mental gymnastics I participated in. They were all mere distractions meant to discourage and immobilize me - had I only been able to see it clearly then. My great efforts to control circumstances or perceptions were all seemingly harmless. I longed for guarantees and sought to line life up in just such a way so I could have them. But, I learned the hard way that some circumstances and perceptions were not meant to be controlled so much as they were meant to develop my character and make me stronger, individually and in the Lord.

It's nothing I intentionally set out to accomplish, being ensnared by deceit, but I had been. No one starts out with a desire to control every aspect of their life. No one proudly seeks the title of "Control Freak."  After all, "those" types are impossible to please.  No one aspires to grate on the last nerves of others, especially those they love and care about the most. Sound familiar by any chance? Perhaps you know some of these types.  Maybe they're in your family, maybe you are married to one, or maybe you yourself seek to control circumstances, people, people's perceptions of you, or events. There are control freaks of all kinds. Some are aggressive, others are passive-aggressive with a bunch of other types in between! Some clearly obvious to the onlooker, some not so much.

But, labels are really irrelevant. Our culture seems to have a serious obsession with labeling. If you just break it down, the need to control is just symptomatic and rooted in sins of selfishness, idolatry or pride. So many grow accustomed to exercising unnecessary control in their life, they often fail to recognize it for what it is. It isn't because they choose to blind themselves to the root issue, but rather, the enemy has done such a masterful job of deceiving them. Generally, it's likely they may continue living as one deceived until reaching some point of crisis in their life that demands a change. It's a comfort zone of sorts to think as one has always thought, even if how one thinks is a result of self-deception. Breaking out of that comfort zone and transforming the mind must begin with exposing the lie (Romans 12:2).

Either God is in control or we are. Either He is allowed the room to work out His plans for our lives or we take control of our own lives with the limited perspective we have. (Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  Yes, indeed, we must exercise control over many things such as our tongues, what our eyes see, what we listen to, who we listen to, etc. However, what I am suggesting here is the need to inappropriately and excessively control people, circumstances, situations, perceptions etc. that do not require our control or that are beyond the boundaries of what we can control or should control.)

Though hard to admit, I am certain most of us have areas of our lives, both seen and unseen, which have not been fully surrendered to the Lord. And frankly, from God's perspective, holding onto those areas with a white-knuckled grip is indeed control and an evident lack of trust in Him.  Is there any aspect of your life, i.e. life/death, marriage, parenting, work, etc. that you experience great anxiety over on a continual basis? If we're honest, I'm sure we'd all be able to identify some area which consistently seems to trip us up. It's in these  areas we require more of God's perspective, and it is in these areas He desires our submission. Relinquishing control allows Him the freedom to work on our behalf in unimaginable ways. So you ask, "What's the big deal? Isn't some control an indication of orderliness, independence, planning, responsibility, etc. - things which are admirable?" I propose that they in and of themselves are good things, but when these good things seem to allow no room or consideration for God in the equation, when these good things drain us of our energy or when we attempt to manipulate circumstances to make sure things turn out as we think "they should", we have then crossed the line and have allowed these admirable traits to become our idols in a sense, thus elevating our limited understanding over God’s omniscience. In other words, we become our own little gods.

As a woman who never intended on being a pastor's wife and one who didn't particularly welcome the idea for some obvious reasons, I have seen how God has used this role to force me into releasing my own white-knuckled grip of various areas of my life. I used to feel a need to be completely self -sufficient. After all I was raised to be independent and throughout my life was commended for being so. I used to feel the need to bridge the gap between the misinformed perceptions others had of me because they did not really take the time to know me and the reality of who I knew I really was in Christ.  I needed to know the end before ever embarking on a beginning. I wanted my A, B and C plan laid out and all my ducks perfectly aligned before I could freely choose a course of action.  In so being and in so doing, I became my own idol, and not a very good one at that!

I don't need to sit here and give you the play by play on the journey that thankfully got me to this point, but I will say without reservation it has not been the easiest road to travel. I would love to say those feelings are completely a thing of the past and how I never see myself desiring to exercise unnecessary control in my life, but I cannot. Becoming a wife and mother has only made that more of a challenge! However, I am a work in continual progress and will be until the day He calls me home. What I can say in hindsight is that I can see I have come a long, long way - solely by the GRACE of God in my life. It was a process and a process that began with the awareness of my hang up.

Certainly, the process for me is not over nor will it be until my death. I am still in discovery mode and am often surprised at where and under what circumstances my "issue" rears its ugly head. With every episode God is allowing me another opportunity to eradicate the need for control in my life to be replaced with a deeper faith and greater trust in Him. To trust His control of the uncontrollable and the unforeseen I face on a day to day, minute by minute basis. Particularly as a mother I am ever so thankful for His control. Today, as my very eager and excited son ran out of our car and straight into a busy road, as I heard the screeching wheels of a large truck, and as I saw the confusion on my son's face, I am indeed once again overwhelmed and more than thankful that my precious son and the unforeseen, the uncontrollable, and the unpredictable events in my life are left in His mighty hands.

I'm beyond grateful for where He has brought me, what he has brought me through, and what he has taught me, even though it has not been the path of least resistance. The faith I hold today has been a direct result of having my hands pried open, not only once, but repeatedly. I've learned how to keep my hands open and trust Him more. Instead of making my plans and running with them or trying to make sure every little thing lines up just so out of some fear that things will not go as I desire or as I think is best, I have made my plans. BUT, I've been able to remain open to doors closing, to see God's hand in plans failing, to recognize His sovereignty in all circumstances, to know without a doubt He loves me and wants what is best for me. If I truly believe that He works ALL things together for my good (Romans 8:28), then even if my plans fail and things don't turn out as I believe they should have, I can still say my hope and trust rest in Him. What more could anyone desire in this life than to be loved in just such a way, to be cared for so thoroughly, and to have a peace that passes all human understanding - a peace that steadies one through even the most unthinkable of circumstances?

My journey is long from over but I remain certain of this...that though my occasional failures may be imminent, my eternal victory and success is fully assured.  I know that He who began a good work in me will complete the work when and through whatever means He deems necessary. I, too, know that I can do everything He calls me to do in His strength for when I'm weak then I'm VERY strong. I'll have my share of battles...and do. I haven’t met a human yet who has made it through life without them. Yet, His grace is sufficient and as long as I believe WHAT He has said, I'll be able to move from trusting my own understanding of things to trusting in the One who actually gives understanding.

As I seek to have more and more victory over the need to control in my life, I'll subsequently experience an increase in the trust I place in Him. I will continue to renew my mind with scripture such as Phil. 4:4-7 that encourage me to..."Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let (my) gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Maria) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present (my) requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (my) heart and (my) mind in Christ Jesus."  This is the path to peace sadly so many miss, and regretfully, I missed for many years.

Perhaps, the sooner we all learn to accept that life will, people will, and circumstances will disappoint us, the sooner we will figure out Who it is we need to trust and how we need to extend grace to others along the way who have yet to experience that trust. We need to remember our feelings and fears are not fail-proof litmus tests for truth, that our heart is deceitful above all things (Jerm. 17:9), and that there is only one source of true peace.  We must recognize our attempts to control by using words and actions we feel justified to use are often less effective than allowing the Holy Spirit to make right the misguided perceptions of others over time (which requires patience and vast amounts of prayer). The sooner we learn to make plans with open hands and hearts so that in the course of our journey we can gracefully make the detours He may have in mind for us, the sooner we will rest in knowing HE's got us in the palm of His hand and loves us with an amazing kind of love! The sooner we will realize...ALL is well!

Even now, as I contend with things that are out of my control, things that are hurtful, and things and people that I can not change, I will choose to trust, relinquish my desire to control, and believe that He is my loving, sovereign Lord who has my best at heart and who will see me through. But merely stating it, however, does little to change the outcome. I must begin by believing Him and not in my ability to make things as I think they ought to be. My prayer is that we pray more, submit more, commit more and control less that which does not require our control. My prayer is that we all grow in our trust of Him and join those in the Hebrews “Hall of Faith.”

  Thought to Share: If we would just get out of the driver's seat long enough to allow God to drive us to where He wants us to go, we might end up getting there faster and crashing less!