This past week here in the Oregon Willamette Valley, we had a massive ice storm that caused us to lose power for several days. On day 3, I was sitting at home in the cold and feeling very unsettled. I couldn’t predict when the power would be back on. I felt at the mercy of my friends for simple things like charging my phone or having a warm place to sleep. And in that moment, I realized that my biggest frustration wasn’t being without power.
It was being out of control.
I think that in His grace, this past year God has allowed us to more deeply recognize just how out of control we actually are. We have faced a lot of unsettling and unpredictable circumstances including a seemingly unending global pandemic, immense political and racial unrest, and even some more local events here in Oregon including the summer wildfires and the ice storms of this past week. We’ve always been out of control, but this past year has made that even more apparent. We can’t control our relationships, the weather, the economy, our political leaders, and even our body’s susceptibility towards sickness.
I’m recognizing that when I feel out of control, my human inclination is to grasp for control in whatever ways I can. I find myself in the stories of numerous men and woman in the Bible who tried to control their own lives, all with disastrous consequences. For example, instead of trusting God’s promise of a son, Sarah took matters into her own hands and had her husband Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar instead. (Genesis 16:1-4). Rebekah tried to trick Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau and caused immense discord between the two brothers. (Genesis 27). And when he feared getting caught for his sin with Bathsheba, David sought to control the situation by bringing her husband Uriah back from battle to cover up his sin. When this didn’t work, David planned Uriah’s murder (2 Samuel 11).
Personally, I have experienced the havoc that control can wreak in my relationships. I love the way Jon Tyson describes this:
“If a controlling spirit possesses us, we will not love others. We will use them as supporting characters in a story centered on us. We will see them only for the value they have in enhancing our own lives… this dramatic misperception shifts our relationships with others from a foundation of love to one of fear.”-Jon Tyson, The Burden is Light
As Tyson suggests, when we put so much energy into controlling people and situations, we have less energy to love God and others well. Control makes us self-focused, while surrender turns the focus to God and frees us to love people authentically.
I want to share several ways that God is teaching me to release control in my day to day life.
Identifying Fear: I think that the first step is identifying our deeper fears. I’ve been taking a course in Biblical counseling that addresses the deeper reasons behind our struggles. The text we’re reading suggests that much of our sin is rooted in fear. And fear almost always leads to control. It reads:
“If pride’s primary expression is fear, then we will try to control in order to protect that which we hold dear. Using intimidation to keep people from hurting us, or telling a joke to avoid intimate conversations and vulnerability, or working 75 hours a week so that we don’t lose our job… In these ways we refuse to trust in God alone to protect what truly needs to be protected.”-John Henderson, Equipped to Counsel
Therefore, when I find myself grasping for control, I try to ask myself: What is the deeper fear? Am I afraid of being vulnerable? Am I fearing abandonment? Am I scared of losing my material possessions and security? Do I fear releasing my independence and autonomy? We need to identify the deeper fear in order to expose why we so desperately crave control.
Looking to the example of Jesus: As I read the Gospels, I am struck by how surrendered Jesus was to His Father’s will. I love John 6:38 which reads:
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”-John 6:38
It’s clear that Jesus wasn’t tied to His own agenda or plans. He was surrendered to the will of His Father in the context of His day to day life. If His Father told Him to go to a certain village, He did. If His Father told Him to leave, He did. Even Jesus’ willingness to spend the first 30 years of His life in almost total obscurity is a testament to His reliance on the Father’s perfect timing.
And then on the cross we see the greatest example of His surrender. Jesus literally gave up every right He had as God and King and put Himself in the most vulnerable position imaginable, death on a cross. I love His closing prayer, “Father, into your hands, I commit my Spirit”. Even at His final breath, Jesus was surrendered to His Father and completely trusting Him.
Jesus’ example is so powerful and one than we should meditate on until it becomes true in our own lives.
Prayer: Lastly, I think that prayer is one of the most powerful ways that we release control. In his book With Open Hands, Henri Nowen suggests that one of the greatest purposes of prayer is to get to a place where our hands are truly open before God. He writes:
“To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive.”-Henri Nowen, With Open Hands
One practice that has been helpful for me is to journal the things that I’m clinging onto. Then I physically open up my hands as a sign of surrender. In prayer, I am reminded of God’s faithful and consistent love. Only when we are truly secure in his love and goodness, do we have the courage to fully open our hands and let go.
I wanted to close by sharing a song by Rebecca St. James that has been so meaningful to me lately. This is such a beautiful song of surrender and I hope it encourages you!