I have a little quiz for you today. No groaning. There are just a few questions, but you have to promise to answer honestly. No hedging or justifying – just a simple yes or no.
- If you are going somewhere by car and traveling with others, short or long distance, do you prefer to be the driver?
- Do you prefer to do certain jobs around the house yourself (mowing the lawn, putting dishes in the dishwasher, doing laundry, etc) and typically reject offers for help in these areas?
- Do you take a leading role in projects and sometimes secretly revise others’ work when you are part of a group presentation?
- Do you seek opportunities at work or church where you can right the wrongs that you see (maybe you think the former person in this role didn’t put their full effort into the position)?
- Do you ever feel like your prayers are directing God?
I’m sure I could create more questions in other areas of life, but these are enough for now. How did you score? Did you answer yes to 3 of the 5 questions? I think it’s time for all of us to look into the areas where we feel we need to be in control.
I started thinking about the subject of this blog after reading a recent posting from a friend of mine who also has a blog. She mentioned that she has control issues and while I was reading her admission, I couldn’t help but think about my own tendencies in this area.
I have always admired people who were in control and when I got married, I set about being a good wife and mother. Part of that, I reasoned, was attempting to always be in control of myself and those in my charge. After all, losing control drives my thoughts to two extremes – a child having a hysterical fit in a grocery store and an elderly person who is incontinent. I don’t want to head down either of those paths, so I strive to control myself and my environment. Below are some examples of the ways I’ve gone about creating a controlled environment.
- Transportation- I almost always volunteer to drive. This desire is only overridden if I really want to look around, read a book, or am too tired to keep my eyes open. I don’t like to fly in airplanes and I hate roller coasters.
- Home jobs – For over 25 years I was the one who loaded the dishwasher. Period. My immediate family members saw my determination and didn’t attempt to sway my passion. Helpful (more distant) relatives and friends would insist on loading it and I would silently rearrange things when their backs were turned. I watched my family members do laundry once and had to look away when I saw how they folded things and the hangers they used.
- When I left my last job, there were duties that only I knew how to do. I made no attempt to try to show anyone else how to do them until I was leaving.
The strange thing is that most people who are control freaks are unaware of their controlling nature. Maybe those closest to them would give an emphatic nod, but most of the controllers would vehemently deny this title. It took me decades to make the realization that I tended to be a controlling person. I have friends, my husband hasn’t left me yet, and I am not an in-your-face sort of person. In fact, for the most part, I try to get along with those around me and go out of my way to help those who need help. The only thing is, sometimes I also try to help those who don’t need it. I don’t do it aggressively, I just quietly walk around righting the things I perceive are wrong.
We also need to realize that control issues don’t usually happen across the board and in every area. We pick and choose what we control and what we don’t. Isn’t that control in itself? For example: I like to bag my own groceries so that they are packed “right”, but I allow my husband to shovel the driveway without any attempt to have it done “my way” For some reason, I can let the shoveling go but I am the only one who knows how to properly put groceries in a bag. Because I don’t take over the snow care does that mean I’m not a control freak? No, I just don’t have time to scrutinize the driveway because I’m too busy making sure my sheets are mitered properly.
Now some of you may already be arguing that you just like to iron or vacuum and that is why you take on those jobs. Is that really true or have you just tried to learn to find enjoyment in what you think is a job well done? Remember my insistence on loading the dishwasher? Well, I can tell you that a compulsion does not automatically mean it is also a passion. So many nights I’d be exhausted and just want to go in and put my feet up. I’d throw sneaky glares at my husband, who was sitting in the living room reading the paper. It’s not fair that I have to do all the work! However, he’d learned a lesson early in our marriage – no one touches my dishwasher! He was a smart man and left me to my imaginary world of dishwasher etiquette.
Why did I take the role of dishwasher queen if I didn’t like doing it? Because in my mind I’d created rules for loading it and no one else seemed to remember them. The plastic cups had to be wedged between glass one. The silverware had to be placed so that they no two spoons or two forks could be next to each other. Seems ridiculous to write it out, but I told myself that there were good reasons to do these things (to keep the cups from flipping over and the silverware from sticking together). I had to do things “right” because I certainly didn’t have time to do them again (because I was the only one doing everything). I was a martyr and a prideful one at that!
Making our own rules and then insisting that things have be done our way is setting ourselves up to be the gods of our own universe (even if that universe is just our home or office). While it’s true that somethings shouldn’t be arbitrary (like wearing a seatbelt), for the most part the world won’t implode if things aren’t done our way. Yes, my husband’s pants might crease more or slide off if he uses other hangers to hang them up, but he’d learn with time. Being a control freak smacks of thinking that we are just a little bit more able (think better) in some way that other people. When we insist that our way is the only way, it rarely is.
Sometimes the need for being in control boils over into more visible places. Being in the control seat shows a definite lack of faith in God as sovereign. If I can’t handle flying because my plane might crash, how can I sing “Trusting Jesus, that is all!” You may remember when people sported bumper stickers that said “God is my co-pilot!” Why should He be in the co-pilot seat? Is it that I want to be the one holding the wheel and just have God jump in before my plane hits the ground? In what other areas do you have fears and how does affect what you do or do not do? Trying to be in control usually stems from fear – fear that someone else in this position won’t be able to keep things together or will even bring me or the ones I love into harm.
The best example I can think of in my life of control versus faith happened when my family was in a devastating car accident 23 years ago. I was driving (of course!) and my husband and almost three year old daughter were passengers. I was pregnant – almost full term. After the impact, I sat there, unable to open my door and get help. I was forced to listen to my husband’s gasps for air and my daughter’s screams. Although I was totally helpless, I tried to hold on to control. I decided that if I didn’t panic, everything would be better for my unborn baby and everyone else. I remember when the paramedics arrived and we were all being loaded into ambulances. I specifically recall thinking, “The paramedics are here. They will take over. I don’t have to be in control anymore” and I felt my body heave a big sigh and relax. The question is, “Why can’t I do this with God?”
So, step back with me today. Take a good hard look at what you’ve been holding onto and thinking only you can do it. Holding your world together gets very tiring – for both you and those around you. Take your world out of your grasp and allow God to hold up the universe without your support. Then take a big breath and let it out. As someone once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who is holding the future!”