This is Part 3 of a 4-part series on Opening Toward God: our part in letting God work. Go here to read the intro and find links to the additional posts.
I have an embarrassing confession. When I was in high school, I excelled at “running into” people I wanted to be around, most specifically, my crushes. At camp I’d wait just until that guy whose attention I wanted got into the food line and then I’d nonchalantly slip into line behind him with my friends and start being the life of the party, telling a great story, like about that amazing catch in ultimate football. If I got a look or a comment my mission was successful. Even better if we all ended up at the same table for lunch. Score.
I’ve always been pretty good at controlling things the way I want. It’s my personality and my firstborn status rolled into one. I used to feel pretty good about my skills. But when you say, “Lord, do whatever you want to in my life,” he says, “Okay. You can’t keep thinking you’re in control anymore. I am.” What follows is long and painful but so, so good.
We like to control life for so many reasons. Fear is a big one. Fear of being hurt, or let down. Fear of being triggered by past pain if things don’t go as we hope. Fear of the future not going the way we have planned. Pride is another. Believing that we know better than God or other people how things should go. Wanting to save face and not let other people see our vulnerability or brokenness.
Proverbs 16:20 says “The one who deals wisely in a matter will find success, [but] blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord” (NET). We can maneuver life with all our natural wisdom, but our success is more related to our trust than our actions.
Control has controlled much of my life. And often, when I think it’s something I’ve mastered, God takes me deeper to show me how I’m still hanging on and need to loosen my grip. So how do we recognize and let go of this deep-rooted way of living?
Evaluate your anxiety
Worry indicates lack of trust. Generally we try to control because we don’t fully trust. What are you anxious about? Make a list. (My recent list was so long I can’t even tell you.) What of those things are you personally responsible for? If you take care of your part, does the anxiety subside? Or do you do the thing, then worry about the outcome? Do you try to manipulate the results by arranging everything you can?
Check on your people-pleasing
Pride motivates us to go the extra mile to make people like us. For instance, maybe I email someone I don’t know well, and they don’t respond right away. I start second-guessing myself, and email them again to clarify what I said, or even apologize for something I’m worried may have offended them. The reality is that they are slow to respond to email. But I work myself up, afraid they didn’t like me or that I’ve offended them. We can really pay attention to what we do to get people’s approval. Those actions are often controlling.
Let people fail
Okay. This one still feels so “off” to me that it’s hard to write it. I’m a detailed, practical, responsible person. So I remember things most people forget. So of course, when people I love might be about to forget something, or not work hard enough to pass a test, or make some mistake, everything within me wants to fix them before they fail. Sometimes this is helpful. For real. But rescuing people is not my job. It’s God’s. And when I step in every time, I’m denying people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes or to take responsibility for their own lives. I’m being controlling. I was never entrusted with managing the lives of the people I love.
Exercise letting go
Make it a daily prayer, “God, today I let go of my control. I can’t make things happen according to my plan. Your plan is better. I choose to believe that today.” Choose not to text your spouse and remind them of that thing yet again. Choose to let people help you without monitoring their work. Choose to not replay that incident in your mind 350 times to see if there’s anything you should have done differently.
Once, in college, I took a walk with my camera and photographed my hands, open, stretched out, not hanging onto anything. Other times I’ve stood by a pond and thrown stones into the water as I named the things I want to control, figuratively letting go. We can open our hearts to the Lord’s leading us to release all that isn’t ours to hold.
This is a huge topic, really. Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk, is a book I read recently that opened my eyes to even more truth on it. To give the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives we must let go of our need to feel in control and trust him, one small step at a time.