When I was a little girl, I had a small plastic troll doll with orange hair that stood up straight. I remember emptying the bottom drawer of my dresser and creating a little troll habitat there with odds and ends of things I'd found around the house. Entering this little imaginary world I had created was something I anticipated, possibly to escape the turmoil and fear that I sensed in our home due to the decline of my parent's marriage. The imaginary world in the dresser drawer was something I could control, a story line I created and steered to my liking.
When I tired of the troll doll, I created intricate scenarios with my Barbie dolls. Most of them involved Ken and Barbie getting married, having children and living happily ever after. It was a childlike soap opera, one day's plot line continuing on the next day.
Once the Barbie dolls were outgrown, I was able to escape into my own world of daydreaming when life in the real world became too lonely or too stressful. In the world I built in my imagination I was in control and I could keep out anything that made me afraid or insecure. I conjured up a whole imaginary future husband and children and designed our imaginary future home. Of course, everything always turned out happily ever after.
Once I was grown, married, and a mama, I was mature enough to recognize that much of life was completely out of the realm of my own control. However, to make myself feel as though I had a sense of control, I tried to run my house like a neat and tidy little ship. The world outside my walls might be falling apart, but inside I would do my best to keep things under control. These are tendencies I still see in myself decades later.
This coming summer I will be 59 years old. You'd think I'd have this all figured out by now, but it was just a few days ago in prayer that God spoke to my heart, asking me to once again surrender every uncontrollable situation that I face to Him. I surrendered and relinquished all. I've said the words of surrender to Him before, but somehow this time I meant them in a deeper and truer way. I wrote down every anxiety ridden thought, every worry, every concern and one by one I loosened my grip on them and surrendered them to God. I know, and I'm sure you know as well, that much of our sense of control is an illusion anyway. There are very few things in life we actually have control of, and most that we don't.
We have no control over:
God - The fact that we have no control over the Creator of the Universe seems so obvious that it's almost laughable, and yet how often have I tried to tell God in my prayers how He needs to fix a person or handle a situation?
Other people - Oh, how much time I've wasted trying to reason with, beg, cajole, nag and manipulate another person into seeing things and doing things my way. I may have, with all good intentions, even been trying to get them to see things and do things God's way. Yet, the truth is I'm really powerless to convince, convict, or change another person, no matter how well intentioned I may be.
Outward circumstances - There's a story in the Bible about a man who thought he had planned for every eventuality. (Find the parable here.) He had saved up for his future and even built bigger barns to store all that he had saved. Then, thinking he had everything in control, he relaxed and had a good time, eating, drinking and making merry. God didn't call this man wise, he called him foolish. He said that the man was going to die that night and he wouldn't be around to enjoy everything he had stored up. I don't think God was condemning being wise and preparing for the future, but He was condemning self-dependency, selfishness and self-absorption and a life consumed with things that are temporal. God was showing us in this parable that, in the end, He is the one Who numbers our days.
Things we do have control over:
How we respond to God - How many times have I wrestled and resisted God instead of yielding to Him and His ways? I suppose the reason I do something that foolish is due to a basic lack of trust and belief that God really does always have my best interests at heart. I cannot, and actually should not want to, control the Creator of the Universe. What I can do is grow in my relationship and understanding of Him and His ways, which should lead to affirming my trust in Him and surrendering the reins of my life to Him. When I empty my hands of those reins of control, then I am able to grasp hold of His strength which is what I really need to face life's uncertainties.
How I respond to others - I can't control other people, but I can control the way I think, react and respond to them.
How I respond to circumstances - Let a trial come my way and what's really going on within my mind and heart is sure to show! I have a choice to not to let my thoughts spiral downward and my emotions run amok.
My thoughts, words and deeds - One of the most liberating, life-changing truths that I've learned, is that you can control what goes on in your mind. Too often, we think our mind is like an untamed horse that just does what it wants and goes wherever it wants. God's Word mentions many times the need for our mind to be renewed and our thoughts to be taken captive, to be trained to be obedient to Christ. Once our thought life is submitted to Christ and the truth of His Word, our words and deeds will begin to follow. The direction we let our thoughts go either helps or hinders the direction of our life.
There's something freeing about letting go of this need to try to control things that are uncontrollable. There's something liberating about cooperating with the Holy Spirit's work within and focusing on the things you really can change. Trying to control things that are uncontrollable results in feelings of hopelessness and despair. Focusing instead on cooperating with God in the areas you can change, pursuing knowing the One Who actually is in control, learning to trust Him and relinquishing the need to control to Him brings peace where anxiety, strife and frustration used to reign.