This post, first written in June of 2017 and polished a bit in March 2019, reminds me of one of the most powerful life lessons I continue to learn.
I began trying to control my life at a very early age. At the risk of making this a confessional, let me just say that I routinely lied, falsely (and sometimes accurately) implicated my brothers, and physically overpowered my friends to get what I wanted. And that was all by the time I was in elementary school! As I grew older and learned what was socially acceptable, I found other methods such as emotional outbursts, dramatic power plays, and sly slips of the hand to orchestrate my life. My college years brought more maturity. I learned that I could not control my environment, my peers, or my family, so I controlled my body through anorexia.
You would think that therapy and recovery would’ve exposed the truth that I am not in charge of my own life either, but I am either a slow learner or a control savant. I have devised many ways to create an illusion of control. In fact, once I had children of my own, I was sure to create a rigid daily schedule to ensure that their lives were under control. I was going to make sure that they were safe and secure. No harm would come to them under my watch. We prayed together. We memorized scripture verses. I only let them watch PBS. We ate dinner together every evening. They went to church every Sunday and often several times during the week. I was going to do this parenting thing right. My kids would be perfect, you know?
I couldn’t control everything, though, as I’m sure you can imagine. They didn’t stay safe and secure. Harm did come to them. Heart-breaking harm.
Many sleepless nights I have cried over my failed attempts at controlling my life; many more I have cried over my realization that I could not prevent my children from being hurt. And where has it led me? Literally to my knees.
For many years now, when I have found myself facing the stark realization of my own powerlessness in the lives of my children, I call to mind an image that gives me great peace. I picture a cupped hand with my child nestled safely inside. I imagine that cupped hand held close to an all-powerful chest much like I might hold a newborn chick or kitten. The hand is strong and able to lift my child out of harm’s way, and sometimes, when harm determinedly finds its way inside of that hand, two compassionate eyes are bearing witness — they are seeing and knowing and caring in ways that I am unable to see, to know, to care. This image of the One who does have control gives me peace in those moments when I am able to acknowledge that I have none
But there are many moments when I am not able to acknowledge that. Most of the moments, actually. Most of my moments I am filling with doing. Doing gives me an illusion of control. It calms my anxiety. It makes me feel like everything is going to be ok if I just get my house clean, if I just meet one more student, if I complete one more task.
But that is a lie. Everything is not going to be ok.
Last night, when I finally admitted that I had done enough for the day and I finally lay down in my bed, I picked up Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way. This is what I read:
Suffering asks us to bear under that which is ultimately not under our control, which proves to us we have no control. And maybe that’s too much for us in our autonomous, do-it-yourself culture to bear. Maybe more than we can’t stand physical suffering, we can’t stand not feeling in control (171).
It’s silly when she puts it like that, isn’t it? And if I admit that trying to be in control is silly, then I have to admit that much of my life has been one big futile exercise. That’s embarrassing. And humiliating. And heartbreaking.
But it’s true.
However, it is also true that regardless of my foolish attempts, I, too, have been sitting in that all-powerful hand. I have been kept out of harm’s way many, many times. And, when harm has found me, One has born witness with compassion, forgiveness, and love. I am His child, after all. He has ordered my world. He has hemmed me in on all sides. And He will continue to carry me.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.Psalm 139:5