My need to “control” is not always a bad thing. I’ve been blessed to accomplish a lot through my career, my spouse and I have worked hard to make sure we have a nice house, cars and the ability to clothe and care for our children. I’ve set goals over the last decade and met most of them.
However, while the end results of all of this control have been positive, it has come at a high cost emotionally. The downside of needing to control everything is an overarching sense of anxiety and fear that things won't happen the way I want them to, and in the darkest moments of my life, when I haven’t been able to control the outcome, I’ve floundered. I’ve questioned God and my faith has wavered.
In one of the darker periods of my life, I struggled with fertility. I researched, spent months in chatrooms and tried to will myself into getting pregnant. After ten months, I was blessed by God to get pregnant with our little boy (something I do not take for granted), but I questioned God mightily during that ten months. I stressed and stewed and complained. When God didn't move on my timeline, I questioned His very existence. I felt that since God wasn't following my plan, He didn't care about me.
But over the last few years, I’ve learned something. Being in control is an illusion. In one of the toughest situations of my life, I found that I couldn’t research enough, obsess enough or force God to immediately remedy the situation. I found that my endless need to control was exhausting and one day, I realized that I had to let go and relinquish my control to God.
And do you know what I discovered?
There is freedom in letting go. Two years ago, I would have denied that. I would have viewed letting go of my control as weakness, or worried endlessly that God wouldn’t fix the situation the way I wanted. I arrogantly thought that if I gave up my control, things wouldn’t get done the way I think they should.
It sounds so arrogant now that I thought that turning my life and steps over to God was weakness, but some of you will understand this completely. Because you know that the fear of “giving up” control is terrifying. So we try to give up our control, but still end up obsessing about that (fervently praying, “I know You’ve got this, but I want You to fix this situation” over and over in an attempt to berate God into doing what I want now is just as controlling!).
I’m currently facing a possible significant life-changing opportunity in the next year. And for the first time, I’m not obsessively researching, crunching numbers or praying over and over, “God, please make this work.” Instead, I have peace about the situation from start to wherever the finish takes me (a first for me!).
There are two comforting passages of Scripture I now depend on when my control freak tendencies threaten to pop up.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
I love this verse. It tells me that it is okay to have a plan. It is okay to have goals, and I do believe we have an obligation to have some plan regarding our future. I don’t believe that sitting passively in your house, hoping the winning lotto ticket or your future spouse will somehow appear, is necessarily the best way to follow God’s will.
But I've also learned while I still have goals, instead of having a rigid plan, where I outline each step on my own timeline, I have to have a flexible plan with the caveat that if God deviates me from that plan, it’s okay!
Proverbs doesn’t say that “the heart of man plans his way and he establishes his own awesome steps.” Instead, it says that ultimately, God has control, not us. We can set our goals loosely, but it is based on His timing, not mine. God is establishing my steps, so I don’t have to obsess about it!
In the past, I didn’t truly believe that God was establishing my steps. The year of fertility issues was incredible emotionally draining. It impacted my marriage, my friendships, and my faith. I questioned God’s plan endlessly.
Like I wrote about a few days ago, if you want to change that need to control, you have to replace an unhealthy behavior with a healthy one. So when I gave up my need to control and my endless questioning of God, I had to replace it with something else: pure, unwavering faith in His plan. I had to learn to lean on Jeremiah 29:11-14.
Many of us will quote that first verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
However, in the past few years, I've learned to embrace the entire passage. Because there is even more comfort in the next few verses.
Jeremiah 12-14 says that: “’Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”
God doesn’t just have a big, impersonal, overarching plan for my life. God wants a relationship with me every step of the way as part of that plan. His peace and love for me will sustain me in the day-to-day activities of life, even when I’m unsure where He is taking me long-term. I don’t have to passively sit by, waiting for Him to implement that plan, worrying if he even remembers me. In the confused and dark moments, we can call on God, pray and find Him. He will bring us from our own self-imposed exile.
Because I don’t know about you, but when I am uncertain about something, that need to control and lack of faith in God feels like exile. Lying in bed, questioning where He was during my infertility, was scary. Where was the God I had trusted and believed in my whole life? I felt empty and lonely, far away from His love.
Since then I’ve learned that if the future is uncertain, instead of rushing to control and question it, in the interim, make sure you are seeking God. Pray, read His word, cling to Jeremiah 29:11-14. Have faith that He is listening to your hurt, to your insecurity about the future and ultimately, He will bring you out of exile and draw you closer to Him.
It is when I give up my endless obsessing and worrying, when I pray, seek and worship Him, I am freed from the captivity of fear, anxiety and control.
I love the song by Hillary Scott, “Thy Will Be Done.” There are moments when I take a deep breath, let go of my need to control and say, “Lord, I know Your plans are great. I know you hear me, and if this huge opportunity happens, it will have to be Your plan, and not mine. Thy will be done, Father.”
Please don’t let your fear and the need to control drive you. Realize that God has an awesome, amazing plan and He has established each and every step of your life. You are not alone, wandering aimlessly through life, without direction. Shake off the bondage of fear and that false sense of control and seek Him first.
He will bring you back from exile. You just have to seek Him.