Living by faith when you are a person who needs to be in control is difficult. Although there are many reasons driving the need to constantly be in control, it is not something easily turned off.
In my case, the overwhelming need to be in charge, to control my life, is a mixture of the effect of my mental illnesses and unresolved issues from childhood.
If I am in control, I cannot be hurt and I only fail based on my own doing. Being in control means I will never have to deal with feeling helpless, lost or alone.
These are all powerful, but they are all lies; an illusion created by fear in a lack of control. Our capability to have total power over everything in our lives is always directly impacted by the choices, decisions, and even consequences of others. The only things we truly have control over is how we choose to act in life, the person we choose to be, and how we choose to react to situations and people.
My head knows this very well. My heart, on the other hand, still fights to create this control illusion. This makes living a life of faith difficult as one must submit to Christ and his leadership. We must give the reigns to Christ, and give up our perceived control.
So how do we do this? While I’m not an expert, there are some methods I have found that help. I haven’t quite conquered the anxiety which comes with recognising there is nothing I can do, but that will come, in time (I hope).
Conquering the Illusion of Control:
1. Recognising my ‘control’ over the situation will not change the outcome.
Two years ago, someone managed to hack my email and attempted to convince my banker to send them $10,000. They also tried to hack my online banking, and every account they could find that I owned. Thankfully, my banker noticed the grammar was terrible, and the email didn’t sound like me. She was also aware that I knew we did not even have $10,000 to get access to. She called me to let me know what had happened, which was when I discovered their attempt to access all other accounts.
There were actions I could take–cancelling my credit card, changing my debit, pin, passwords, etc. But I had no way of knowing if they had accessed anything else at that point. And if they had, there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to control the situation. I wanted to make it right, to fix it all, and to be okay. But nothing I could do would change what had happened, or what they could have taken.
Trying to control the uncontrollable was making things more stressful. Until we knew the full situation, there was nothing I could do. Getting upset over it would not help.
2. Acknowledge worrying over things I cannot control makes things worse.
For the average person who is prone to worrying and anxiety, we know these feelings/actions are difficult to conquer. Throw in an anxiety disorder and Bi-Polar, and it makes for an intense cocktail of bad swirling around with bad, making things harder to bring into focus.
Matthew 6:34 says “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Worrying is an activity with a nasty habit of getting thoughts trapped in your head, spinning round and round, and making everything seem futile. Oftentimes, these worries come over things we cannot control and have more to do with the future than they do with the moment we are in.
These worries/anxieties will not make anything better. They cannot change what is happening. When we acknowledge worrying before action can be taken causes us more grief than anything, we can work to start eliminating that ‘pre-emptive’ worry.
3. Pray, pray, and then pray some more.
As followers of Christ, we’re constantly reminded prayer is our number one tool for pretty much everything. It’s also something I have struggled with for many, many years. What makes my prayers worthy of God’s time when there are bigger things going on in the world?
It took me a while, but what I’ve discovered is prayer is about so much more than just opening up to God or asking him for things. It can function as a type of therapeutic meditation. Much like journalling works for those of us who love to put pen to paper, prayer is an outlet for our fears, our hopes, our everything.
Prayer won’t necessarily fix whatever is going on, but it can help lead to peace about it.
4. Turn to the Word
As the guide for our Christian lives, the Bible has a number of stories and verses dealing with fear, worry, anxiety, hard times, and on and on. There are stories of people who had everything taken from them in the blink of an eye (Job, David). There are also stories of hope and encouragement; of hopeless situations being turned around.
But many of these stories are about more than just sharing struggles; they’re a reminder of things we can do in the midst of the storms. Whether it’s because of my anxiety disorders, or simply because they don’t exist, there are no ‘band-aid’ Bible verses for my anxiety. The stories don’t so much calm my emotional storm as they do provide perspective.
In the end, perspective is the biggest tool I have found to help with my anxiety.
This is especially true in times where I desire to control everything, but ultimately cannot. When I was sent on stress leave early last year, I was directed to take all the things causing me anxiety, make a list, and move myself to a different job mentally, or a different place. Put a different perspective on them.
If changing that perspective eliminated the issues causing the anxiety, it was an indication what was inducing the anxiety was an environmental impact–things I could not control because they were coming from sources other than myself.
But, if taking those issues to another place, to another perspective, still left them simmering, then they were issues with my perspective.
They were, in effect, things I could work towards correcting.
But once again, it took recognising I could not necessarily control these issues, though I could impact them. My health, for example. I cannot control what my PCOS does to me, when it flares up or when it decides to simmer down. However, I can work on eating properly, exercising regularly, and do things that can allow me to combat the effects of my PCOS.
Understanding control is an illusion, in a way, allowed me to regain control of myself in my life. In its own way, this recognition helped strengthen my faith by allowing me to acknowledge things happening beyond my control have nothing to do with my relationship with God.
In a way, it comes back to the whole trust thing, and the idea of God punishing us. Life can spiral out of control regardless of how committed and obedient we are to God. While not allowing God to work in our lives can lead to some difficulties, difficulties are not a reflection of us making mistakes.
When we can learn to overcome the idea that God is punishing us, and recognise we cannot control all aspects of our life, we have the ability to begin to develop trust. And as someone who struggles with trust, I feel like this is a step in the right direction.