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.

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Conclusions and Interpretations

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“The conclusions we draw about God in the midst of our pivotal circumstances drive us toward or away from him.” Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide, pg 138

Reading Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide, and coming across this section reminded me of what we’ve been talking about on this blog.  Andy is talking about how what he calls pivotal circumstance in our lives affect our faith.  Some of these experiences in life are life altering, which can be good or bad.  But either way, how we interpret these experiences determine how we perceive God and if our faith will grow or be devastated.

This returns us to the idea of the spirit of accusation found in the dry land of LoDebar.  When we face circumstances that challenge our faith, we have the choice to listen to the voices of those who make their home here, or will we stand against the words that try to accuse God to us.

The enemy of our souls will look for those experiences in our lives to try to define God to us, and by extension, define us to ourselves.  He will paint God as a tyrant, or uninterested, or even against us.  The question will be what will we do?  Will we allow our circumstances to define who God is, or will we allow Him to speak for Himself?

This is why it is important for us to learn to hear the voice of the Father.  Just as Jesus heard the Father declare him as His beloved son, we need to hear the Father’s voice speaking those words over us.  The king is our friend.  We can trust him.  Even when our circumstances try to lie to us, accuse God to us and accuse us to ourselves, we can believe him.

He has made his love and care for us known.  We must choose to believe the king has our best interest in mind, rather than the lies from the enemy.  Ask him to speak to you his truth, let his word be your anchor in the midst of LoDebar.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

The Fig Leaf

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Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25, NIV)

In the Garden of Eden, there was no shame. Theologians have talked about how the glory of God clothed them. But I propose that it was more than just that. Adam and Eve lived in a state of being known.

Intimacy is the act of being known. It is state of being understood on more than just a surface perspective; it is more than just a physical relationship. Intimacy is the experience of being truly known on the deepest levels.

This is the atmosphere that Adam and Eve lived in with each other, and also with God. They lived in the perfect harmony of being known without any fear of rejection or shame. They were open to each new experience found in the Garden and in relationship with their Creator.

Until sin… Until rebellion…

The moment they disobeyed, sin entered the human experience and with it came shame, fear and separation.

They immediately recognized that they were naked. They took fig leaves and began to cover themselves. This was the first time they had any separation between them. Then God comes into the Garden in the cool of the day for their normal time together…and they hide. Now not only they are separated from each other, but they also are separated from their God.

Shame drives a wedge between us and those we love. It will create a “fig leaf” that we use to separate our real selves from each other.

Author John Eldredge says that our fig leaves are our “false selves,” those personalities that we present to people, protecting ourselves from really being known.  The problem is that we all deeply, truly want to live in a state of being known by someone.  This is a root of the rampant sexual immorality we see in the world.  It’s not about the sex…it’s about being known.

But even sex doesn’t create the intimacy we’re really looking for, because even in that act we can still “wear a fig leaf.”  We hide behind the carefully constructed self we present to others and inside we still are looking for someone to know us.

This is the price of shame…separation and loneliness.  It comes to destroy trust and break what real intimacy we have.  It is not God’s desire for us to live with shame.  What will it take to reject shame, and lay down our fig leaves?

Trust is the victim of rejection.

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When we are rejected, dropped by those who we thought believed in us or loved us, trust is what is fragmented. Sometimes the one who has fallen and dropped us will seek to repair the damage, asking forgiveness, which is a very good thing. But depending upon the severity of the break, trust will take time to heal. Other times, those who have dropped us don’t care or don’t even know they have caused damage. And this speaks to us: you are not worth it; I reject you.

It’s been said that rejection is the doorway through which much of our spiritual and emotional struggles will come in life. No one is immune to the sting of rejection. It lurks in the shadows and speaks it’s lies that we are not worthy, there is something wrong with us or that we are not good enough. This is the luggage we can carry around with us into every new friendship, relationship, job or neighborhood.

Before we can ever learn to trust again, before we can heal our broken feet, we must deal with this devil of rejection. And it is this that King David dealt with first with Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9) by calling him to his presence. He did not reject Mephibosheth. Even his servant, Ziba, was quick to let the king know that there was something wrong with this young man, that he was defective, not worth the time of the king of Israel. Yet, David decides that he wants to give favor to this broken one: favor not rejection.

Some of us have perfected the state of being rejected into an art. We have received it and accepted its lie to the place where we even will reject others before they can reject us. We downplay our good qualities in deference to all our flaws and refuse to receive the slightest compliment. We cannot believe that anyone would really be our friend, or truly believe in us, because rejection has made its home in our psyche.

Yet it is into this Grace walks. Grace says “come to My throne room and be the center of my attention.” Grace says “let Me enfold you in My arms and thwart the lies from your ears.” Grace says “you are loved and you are worthy just because you are.”

God begins the healing of our trust by calling us to him, just as we are, flaws and fears and all. Jesus says to us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16a) He has chosen us. We are not alone.

Crippled Feet, Broken Trust

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When he was just a young boy, his dad, the Prince of Israel, had died in battle along with his grandfather. Fearing for the life of the royal heir, his nanny had snatched him up, ran for safety with him in her arms. That was, until she dropped him. Mephibosheth’s ankles had been crushed and never would heal. He was crippled. (2 Samuel 4:4)

Though we might not have a physical ailment keeping us from walking, I believe most of us can look to at least one or two (probably more) times in our lives when we we’ve been dropped emotionally or spiritually. Just like the young man’s story, someone we looked to for protection, for loyalty, for love or for covering had failed us and we were dropped.

It might have been a family member who physically, emotionally or sexually abused us or a teacher who told us we would never amount to anything. Maybe it was a spouse who left us or a minister we trusted who betrayed us. It might have been an organization, a job, a church or something we invested our whole heart and soul into only to find that we had been deceived and used. Personally, I know the pain of being dropped, having placed my trust in others who I thought had my best interest at heart, and only to find out that I was merely a vehicle to build their kingdom, expendable. I’ve been in the place where people who should have known me and my heart believed lies and turned away and cut me from their lives.

All these things and many more like them happen every day, and it leaves us saying this:

“I will never trust again.”

With this vow of our heart, our spiritual feet get smashed on the rocks of rejection and betrayal. Suddenly, the ease with which we built relationships before vanishes and we struggle to get our footing in life. It’s hard to move forward in life, make friends, and build a future when you find your trust crippled. It is easier just to close the door behind us and stay locked away with these damned feet that won’t work. We have been cursed, and we have believed the curse.

It is into this desolation that grace comes. It can be fearful at first, when the beginning peeks of light spread out underneath the door. When grace comes calling for us, we seek to hide behind our wounds, because it’s easier to accept the worst than believe it can get better. Why would God care about us, when deep down we believe, he is to blame for this? Couldn’t he have fixed it? Couldn’t he have protected us? Why now should we trust? How can we trust even if we wanted to? Our feet don’t work.

Yet the King is calling us. He is inviting us to his throne room. He comes for us. Can we trust, just one more time? Will we be willing to let down our guards, just one more time to see what grace can do?