I heard an old man speak once… He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago that his profound sense of control, in the world and over his life, is an addiction and a total illusion. He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars, in those car seats that have steering wheels, with grim expressions of concentration on their faces, clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car to do whatever it is doing, he thinks of himself and his relationship with God: God who drives along silently, gently amused, in the real driver’s seat.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a firstborn. A child of divorce. A burden-bearer by nature that desperately wants everything to be alright. Or a combination of all three.
But, I do know this… I definitely struggle with control issues.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had over the years with my Spiritual Director that have centered around this stumbling stone in my life.
I’ve wrestled down the need to please others. Perhaps when you are pushing sixty you finally realize that the only one worth pleasing is God. I’ve made this my goal now…
Walk worthy of the Lord, please him in everything…
I’ve also learned to let go of perfectionism.
Unfortunately for my boys, I didn’t learn that lesson until later in their childhood. Poor guys would stand befuddled in the middle of a room wondering where their toys went when they turned their backs on them. In an effort to keep the house neat and tidy, toys got swept away into the toybox as quickly as the boys would set them down.
My sister once challenged me about my need to have everything in its place and it hurt me terribly. But, I got the message loud and clear one evening when after scurrying around like a mad woman after the boys, my hubby asked me, “Is the President of the United States coming for dinner?” I responded with a quizzical “no.” “Then let the boys play!” he responded.
Young mommies take a tip from me…
Parents, don’t exasperate your children…
In the past, any form of criticism used to trigger a “dukes up” posture in me. It was a defense mechanism really–a way to protect my heart from hurtful words that I often heard in my growing-up years—a way to keep in check what little self-esteem I had left. The residual result of living in a home with parents trapped in an unhappy marriage.
This quote by Anne Lamott sums it up…
I know your family was just fine, but some of us, maybe three or four of us, grew up around miserable marriages, alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, or any other dysfunction, and as a result, turned out just a bit more tense and controlling than the average bear. The tools did not work very well when I was 6, nor do they work well at 62, but I always fish them out first from the battered old tool box.
I was still fishing out my “dukes up” tool from that battered old box until a colleague of mine prayerfully questioned this means of self-preservation that she saw me use on several occasions.
With her help, I learned to put my “dukes” down. To not take things so personally. It taught me a whole new way of listening to others.
Please, Lord, don't let me be...
A person who answers without listening...embarassing myself.
For You are my strength and my defense...
As long as I’m baring all my control issues with you, I might as well tell you about the latest conversation I had with my Spiritual Director.
After a time spent in silence, she opened our time together with, “What’s on your heart today, Julie?”
I began, “Over the years we’ve tackled several of my control issues. But, there’s one I’ve been hesitant to share with you until now.
This control issue is genetic, I think. Passed along to me by my Grandma Simey. She was generous to a fault. A care-giver. A mother hen. Sometimes much too much so.
And I am hard-wired just like my grandma.
In fact, my hubby periodically calls me “Zelma” (my grandma’s name) to remind me when I’m pushing the mother hen button too often or too far, particularly in the lives of my grown son’s.
It is all done out of love for them. Out of concern. To be helpful. But, my tendency to help often hurts or hinders them (or us…in the pocket book). And I just can’t seem to get this one under control.”
“Julie,” she said, “do you think that your grown sons are capable of taking care of themselves?”
“Yes, they are, Mariann. More than capable. Without my interference or ‘help’."
“Then what do you think those control impulses are really all about?”
“They’re about me...when it boils down to it. I didn’t really have anyone that I could turn to when I needed help as a young adult. So, I think I am trying to fill that void by taking care of the needs in my son’s lives.”
“Anything else?” she gently prodded.
“It always goes back to trust, doesn’t it? Trusting God to work out his purposes even in their need. When I'm the one my sons turn to, I usurp God, hindering my guys from seeing how he is working things out on their behalf. God is calling me to rest in him and allow him freedom to move in the way he deems best.
But, man that’s hard! I just want to help God along.”
The truth is I’m not the only one with control issues. We all have them in varying degrees, don’t we? Particularly we mommas!
So, let’s make a pact, you and I, to let go of the illusion that we are in control. That somehow we guide the car of our lives with our little plastic steering wheel in the back seat. Because we know who is in control. And that he loves us to the moon and back. And that he always has our best interest in mind.
With all my heart
I will trust you Lord
and not rely on my own judgment.
Always lead me in the way I should go,
because I know you will clear the road
for me to follow.
Whatever those issues are that we need to face down with God’s help, we can conquer them. Because with God, all things are possible.