The Illusion of Control

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A couple months ago, my friend Chris passed away due to a battle with cancer.  He was a young man of 39, with a wife and two kids, and a wonderful family who have become dear to my heart.  As we have walked through this journey of grief, one thing has become clear to me.

Death brings clarity.  It clarifies what is real and what is not real in your life.  When it comes and touches your circle of life and community, you begin to see with new eyes what is true and right and important.  Maybe this is one of those redeeming qualities of bad things that happen.

One of the things I have noticed my mind coming back to a lot is this:  you cannot control life.  It continues to move on.  When someone leaves, whether by choice or by death, life continues.  You don’t have to ask it to keep moving, it simply does.

And with its movement, you discover that you are not in control.  And we don’t like it.  Control is not achievable.  It is really an illusion.  Things like death or divorce or illness strip away the comfort that illusion gave us.  We become disillusioned.  The illusion is removed, and we are left grasping at whatever we can hold onto.

For most of us, we like to believe we have things under our control.  In fact, some of us like control so much, we try to control our spouses, our kids, our friends and anything else anyone will give us!  But we don’t really see the power this illusion has over us until we begin to feel it slip away and then we find ourselves tightening the grip!

The ancient peoples understood the randomness of life and the fact they were not in control of their world.  Their lives depended on the weather patterns and the seasons of planting and harvest.  Without the climate being just right, they knew they wouldn’t have enough to eat for the following year.  They did their best to live in such ways that they wouldn’t get sick or injured because they didn’t have the modern medicine of our day to save them if they did.

They understood they weren’t in control, so they looked to their god or gods.  They placed their faith outside themselves to find answers for why things went the way they did or didn’t go.  They would offer sacrifices so that the gods would be pleased and they would have a good crop, have healthy children or live another year.  When these things didn’t happen, they decided the gods must be angry with some small infraction of theirs, and they would try harder to appease their gods.

We as modern people realize that there were many more things involved than simply the sovereignty of some far away deity.  As man progressed and technology and knowledge abounded, the wisdom that came with it began to rely more on what we could do rather than what God could do.  And we believed the oldest lie of all that we could be in charge, we could be in control.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had conversations with people that expressed different parts of this struggle.  One person said that they realized they couldn’t promise something their friend wanted, because they couldn’t promise life would always work out the way we believed it should.  Another told me that the very thing that they wanted, to be in control of their own lives, was the thing they realized they now had no control over.

As I began to ponder on these things, I realized that to try to control another becomes manipulation.  Trying to control my circumstances, and make them bend to my will, many times will cause conflict between me and my co-workers or friends and family.  To force my desires and control every aspect of my life will end up in my confusion, frustration and ultimate failure.

The only thing God the Father has given us is the ability to have self-control.  What I do with what has been thrown at me by life, how I handle what has been done to me by other people, is my responsibility.  But I do not do it alone; because one of the fruit of growing in God’s Spirit in my life is that I will have more ability to control myself.

When we live in the illusion of control, there is no need for trust or faith in God, because it is up to us.  We are in charge.  There is no need for faith, but there will be fear.  Fear that we will fail, fear that we will not be able to handle things, fear that things are out of control.  In fact, I believe the root to all desire for control is fear.

But perfect love casts out all fear.  And so the only way I can handle what life and the enemy throws at me is to cast my fear and my desire to control life at Jesus’ feet.

I have to trust.  No, life will not always work out the way I want it to.  There will be things that I hate about life.  There are going to be people who are going to leave, some willingly, some not.  There is going to be accidents and trials and fears and illnesses.  There will be trouble in this world, but I do not have to fear…for my trust is in the one who has overcome the world.

I always wondered why when Jesus said there would be trouble in this world, so don’t fear because he had overcome the world.  What does Jesus overcoming the world have to do with trouble in my life?  The word overcome means to conquer and to win.  When Jesus says don’t fear, I’ve conquered the world, it means he has it under his control.

Nothing we face in life will we face without his hand between us and it.  There will be pain, there will be suffering, but the sovereign hand of God is on us and has us in his grip.  We might not be in control, but he is.  We can trust that he is with us and working it all for our good.

But I have to let go of the illusion of control.  I have to give myself into the hands of the wind of the Spirit knowing that he will lead and he will guide and will make all things beautiful in his timing.