Uncle Oscar was apprehensive about his first airplane ride. His friends, eager to hear how it went, asked if he enjoyed the flight. “Well,” commented Uncle Oscar, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but I’ll tell you this. I never did put all my weight down!”
People love to have control over others and things. We love to have a plan. We have grown up hearing advice like this: “You can do anything you set your mind to do!” “Follow your heart!”
Nevertheless, when things don’t go the way we’ve planned, we feel disappointed, anxious, sad — even angry. We might have pictured our lives differently than they’ve turned out to be. We feel out of control.
Whenever we face out-of-control situations, we tend to go to one of two extremes. For some the more out-of-control life gets, the harder we try to control it. Ever tried to turn a corner driving with both hands holding on to the steering wheel as hard as possible? It’s not easy to do. It’s rather dangerous actually.
I want to show you a clip from the movie Mom’s Night Out. It’s clear after this clip, this mom needs a night out, or a new way of looking at people and her life, and the people in her life.
Of course not everybody goes to the controller mode extreme. Others do the exact opposite: Just give up. Throw a pity party, sit down and feast on the banquet of resentment, fear, defeat, and surrender. Now of course there are times when we ought to be sad about our predicament, but being sad is different than covering our life’s canvas with dark gray oil paint.
Both of those reactions don’t work. Instead of going into victim mode or bringing out your inner hyper Mr. or Mrs. Do-It-All, pray to God for peace, for wisdom, for compassion, and for strength to take the next step. Then go for a walk while breathing slowly. While you’re doing that, promise yourself you will take yourself on a praying, walking, and breathing date the next day. And then do it. Keep repeating until this habit is ingrained.
The truth is we are terribly good at what isn’t good at all: Trying to control things only God can control. You can’t control your husband or your kids or your wife or your job or your future or your past or any of that stuff. It feels like a healthy relationship and it feels like we’re supposed to be able to do that but it ain’t and it isn’t.
There’s a great saying I heard from someone who’s in AA. It’s “keep your side of the street clean.” This means, you’ve got your stuff and your husband or wife or partner or parent or child has their stuff. Don’t confuse the two. Yours is enough to handle without taking on theirs, I have a feeling.
The names in this story have been changed out of respect for their privacy. Julie W told her family’s story in a magazine article. [My daughter], Allison, came home for the weekend. She opened the door, didn’t speak, and dropped her duffel bag. Smudges of mascara circled her eyes. I whispered a “God-please-no” prayer. “Come tell me about your classes.” I patted the sofa. She muttered, “Gotta take a shower.”
As she clomped upstairs, I analyzed the recent changes in her: complaints of not having any money, rarely answers the phone, weight loss, pinpoint pupils, and a “who gives a rip” [facade]. I searched her purse and found a leopard-colored pipe and the unmistakable sweet odor of pot. My heart fluttered wildly like a bird stuck inside my chest. She plodded down the stairs, hair in a towel, wearing the same wrinkled clothes. Be still and talk in a sweet voice, I told myself. You must convince her to stop. “We need to talk, honey.” “Not now. I’m tired.”
“I found your pipe.” She stared at me with death-row eyes. “Chill, it’s not that big of a deal.” The tightness in the den suffocated me. I needed air. “Want to walk?” I asked brightly. “Like we used to?” “Whatever.”
I knew I could talk some sense into her. “Honey, please. You’ve gotta stop.” I grabbed her hand. “Mom!” She jerked away. “We have a strong family history. You don’t want to…” I never got to finish the sentence. Allison stormed out of the room and within minutes was headed back to college.
I began spending most days by the phone. I evaluated Allison’s reactions, gestures, and comments. Thoughts circled my mind like buzzards: What if she never stops? What if I never see her again? What if she overdoses? Or goes to jail? I lured Allison into therapy by promising we’d go to an Italian restaurant before visits. Her first appointment day arrived. She played with her spaghetti, and I couldn’t eat. “So, what do you plan to say to the counselor?” I asked. “How should I know?”
When they called her name at the office, I hurried in to make sure the counselor understood. Allison refused to sign for me to have any information. I considered eavesdropping, but too many people were around.
An hour later, she walked past me as I paid. “What’d you talk about?” “Just stuff.”
Our therapy/lunch charade continued that way for a few weeks. Then Allison’s sister informed me she was still using. She denied it, refused to see the counselor, dropped out of college, and stopped answering my calls. I was convinced if I forgot about Allison, even for a second, or enjoyed anything, something bad might happen. Several months later, after another night of little sleep, I glanced in the mirror. I could have passed for the addict: dark circles under hopeless eyes.
I called my friend Linda. Her son, also an addict, had been sentenced to state prison. “You can’t imagine all that’s going on here,” I said. “Come over for coffee,” she urged. I wanted to stand guard at home but knew she’d listen and understand. “Hey, girlfriend.” Linda hugged me. I didn’t touch my coffee as I blurted the saga. Linda didn’t sweet-talk. “You need help.” “You haven’t heard the whole story,” I argued. “I’m fine–my daughter, she needs help.”
“You’re addicted to worry and control,” Linda said. “I’ve been where you are.” She stretched out on the sofa. “The only one you can control is yourself.” The possibility that she might be right terrified me. “It took me years to realize that I’m not in charge. God is,” Linda admitted. “By worrying, you’re telling God he can’t handle things. Go to Al-Anon with me.” I’d heard of Al-Anon but didn’t see how it applied to me. But I agreed because I was in awe of Linda.
I didn’t open my mouth during the meeting. Every word spoken sounded like my own thoughts: “I worried myself sick about my alcoholic husband.” “My peace comes only when I let go and let God.” Then the speaker said, “To change, you’ll have to leave behind some familiar lifelong habits.” But how? This is who I am–what I do. “An alcoholic can’t drink, and those of us in this room can’t allow an ounce of worry. For us, it’s every bit as dangerous and addictive. Worry robs our serenity.”
I didn’t think change was possible. Not for me. But I knew one thing for sure–I was destroying my life. That night at home I got real. “Help me, God. I can’t do this without you.” I began to ask God for help each morning. I whispered, “Not my job,” as worry, fear, or control tried to needle back in.
Two years after that first Al-Anon meeting, Allison and I met for an impromptu lunch. She’d gone back to the same therapist. On her own. “You can’t imagine how easy it is to study when you’re not high,” she
laughed. “Nope, I guess not.” I blinked back happy tears. “Thanks, Mom.” “For what?”
“When you didn’t fix my problems, it scared me. A few times I had to dig change out of the seat of my car for gas money. Some days,” she paused, “I didn’t have food.” My throat felt warm with pride. She’d done it on her own. “I’m making A’s. And look,” she handed me her checkbook. “I have money again.”
Recovery defies logic. It means doing the opposite of what feels natural. When I took care of myself and my addictions, Allison did the same.
Give up on demanding control of the life, the people, and happenings around you. Free yourself from that illusion. But don’t fall prey to surrender and defeatism. For God is still at work. The Lord is still on high.
Often times we presume things should go a certain way. We think:
“If God was with me, this shouldn’t have happened!” “If this was truly God’s will, this and that should have happened by now!” Unfortunately, we can only see ourselves, from our own wants and desires and plans. God on the other hand has a much bigger view.
Scripture reminds us that God’s thought are not our thoughts … “neither are your ways my ways … As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Is 55:8-9
God is looking at me and you and you and all of us all at the same time, working things out while all the time knowing things we will never know.
When we only have the tail of the elephant, or a front foot, it’s really hard to understand what an elephant really is.
I do believe in the assurance that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” Rom 8:28
Now of course we need to understand something very basic: The love of God means something really important. In order for all things work together for good in your life, your first have to love God. And this love of God isn’t the same as I love pizza or I heart Chicago. We could make a car magnet that says, “I heart God” but you and I know the question of whether we truly love God is a far cry from be willing to slap a magnet on our gas tank.
The idea of God, the real truth about God, comes with a couple of truths attached to it. First, if we say we love God it has to mean you trust God. This faith and trust thing is a biggie when it coming to having an actual
relationship with the real God. If we love but don’t trust, it’s not really love. It’s more like, well, a saying or a car magnet.
The second real deal that comes with loving God and believing things are working out for good is you need to look at life from the Lord’s viewpoint. This is called the values test.
We can’t say we love God and then do the opposite of everything this God stands for and wants us to be doing. I can’t love the God who is compassionate on me and gracious to me and then act opposite to that. Loving someone means not to be in synch with their values. This absolutely goes when it comes to the Lord.
Some years ago when this fellow was learning to fly, his instructor told him to put the plane into a steep and extended dive. He says he was totally unprepared for what was about to happen. After a brief time the engine stalled, and the plane began to plunge out-of-control. It soon became evident that the instructor was not going to help the newbie at all. After a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, his mind began to function again and he quickly corrected the situation.
Immediately he turned to the instructor and began to vent his fearful frustrations. He very calmly said, “There is no position you can get this airplane into that I cannot get you out of. If you want to learn to fly, go up there and do it again.” This fellow remembers thinking at that moment God seemed to be saying to him, “Remember this. There is no situation you can get yourself into that I cannot get you out of. If you trust me, you will be all right.”
Love the Lord your God. Let go of the steering wheel, or at least give up the death grip on it. Let God work the miracles in your life. You just keep praying for them and loving the Lord and others. Keep your side of your street clean.