I have never loved that feeling of the upward climb of the first hill on a roller coaster. I know what’s coming next; the peak and downward rush when my stomach flies into my throat and I grab the seat bar in white-knuckled fear. Let’s be honest: I don’t really love the whole roller coaster experience. I will endure it for the sake of a funny memory or time with someone I love, but the whole “strap you in with a five point harness in a little car barreling along a small track” is not really my cup of tea. I’d rather just sit with a cup of tea. But what I’ve discovered through the years of theme park fun is that I feel worse anticipating the drop on the coaster than I do as I am actually dropping. The dread is always worse than the fall.
This is what control feels like: holding my breath, cursing myself for climbing on in the first place, tight fisted and gripping the tiny safety bar. Control never lends to well-being. Control is the conclusion that trusting, waiting, potentially looking messy or getting hurt is the path of a fool. Control promises a temporary way to avoid our smallness. It never delivers on the promise.
We need to understand how controlling shows up, in its most subtle forms, before we know how to let go and return to our proper and blessed small size in God’s world.
Control can look like thinking we know how someone we love should be acting, or it can look like making a similar suggestion more than once, or asking probing questions again and again. Control shows up when we are only able to be happy with another person when they respond to us in a way we desire.
Control can show up in our “I’m fine” responses to someone else trying to care, because we want people to see us as strong, not needy.
Internally, control can take the form of obsessive thinking about how something or someone needs to change, or obsessive worry or planning. Maybe we force the outcomes we want, or teach our spouses about how to handle our hearts instead of showing up and asking for what we need. Maybe we manage or direct in our relationships or our jobs, thinking we just tend toward over-responsibility. Or perhaps we’re just trying to manage the level of drinking, porn use, anger or disconnection in our homes to keep things from getting worse.
Control is never our job, and letting go of it, though it requires great courage, is a gift our Father gives us as He returns us to a childlike, sane way of living. Our true place, as children of a Father who is ever guiding, pursuing, interceding and rescuing, is a place of really living. The trouble is that letting go of control has to precede any felt sense of peace and acceptance. You feel the terror of the plunge right over the crest of the roller coaster before you gain any relief. That’s why we resist the letting go.
But if we can let go, by God’s grace, we learn to live through the plunge, and really live, maybe for the first time in our lives. Releasing our grip, our demand, frees us from the impossible and miserable task of trying to get others to change. We are freer to deal effectively with the things we are actually responsible for, and we become open enough to experience momentary, childlike gratitude. We receive, humbly, our inheritance from the Father.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center on staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness.” Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Rock Hill, SC.