When Losing Control Means Gaining Peace
“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” -Thomas à Kempis
I read this week how our need for control can be a response to anxiety. When anxiety floods our brains, our natural response system kicks in - do I fight? Or do I flee? Because we aren’t making these decisions like our ancestors did against bears and mountain lions every day...we have begun a new sort of conditioning when we feel anxious - can I control this situation or not?
It’s a funny concept: our brains, unwilling to slow down and face reality immediately look for ways to control the uncontrollable. We don’t want to face the crisis that we might be in a situation in which we can do little, so our brains go into action - how could I control this? What pieces are left for me to control? If I can’t control it, can I at least focus on it and hope that something changes?
That action of ruminating, looking for ways to control, makes us feel like we’re at least doing something. But that something comes at a cost.
How much energy is wasted when I refuse to accept that I cannot control what is in front of me?
On Tuesday of this week, after a long day at work, I got a screw stuck in my tire on the way to my night class. I was furious. I could feel myself growing tense at what felt like one more thing that I didn’t need. The anxiety crept in. When am I going to get this fixed? How am I going to fit that in with everything else I have to do?
I moved inward.
My desire for control is a response to anxiety, sure, but more than that: it’s a response that flows out of my selfishness. I want to control situations around me because ultimately I believe those situations should serve to make me happy. I want to control people around me because ultimately I believe they exist to do what I want. I want to control God because I believe He should give me what I want.
In these moments the only thought I have is for myself. How can I feel better? Control for me has less to do with power, or pride; it has way more to do with how much I love comfort and believe I deserve it at all costs. Control for me means I don’t have to feel something I don’t want to. But in pleasing this need for control I enslave myself to a never ending cycle of displeasure and pain.
It is not to say that when I start to move inward the answer is to immediately think outward. This is what happens when people who are hurting immediately go comfort someone else - it is a denial of our own pain in an attempt to not feel it. I can’t just run away from my selfish desires and hope they go away - I have to confront them. I have to be willing to acknowledge their existence and wrestle with the fact that on Tuesday night - my desire to control my environment, my time, my schedule, how others interacted with me, is more a response to my desires to feel something different because I don’t believe I should feel anything bad. I have to be willing to acknowledge that I have enslaved my heart into believing it’s ultimate satisfaction will be in being satisfied by me.
Paul wrote to the church in Galatia - “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The burden of that slavery is becoming more real to me. My heart and mind are in chaos when things feel out of control. I feel chained to indecision, dissatisfaction, fear. It is the opposite of the freedom offered to me in Christ. But how do I rest in that freedom?
I think it’s more than just trite sayings like “God is in control” even though I believe that to be true. I think it has more to do with reminding each other that the negative, terrible feelings we get when things are out of control, serve to point us to our ultimate need for something outside of ourselves. We won’t gain control of our environment...our image...our spouse...our kids...and the time spent trying to will further drive us inward. But once we see this selfishness, our gaze should move to a risen Lord who has set us free. A freedom that pushes us out of the chaos...out of the fear...out of the weight of this world.
It is when we give up our need for control that we gain peace.
Where has your selfishness pushed you to be more controlling in your life this week?