We all like being in control of our lives, in knowing what’s happening. Most people don’t like living with uncertainty, and we tend to be creatures of habit. That’s normal. Some people are more attuned to and enjoy surprises, or cope well with a job that deals with the unpredictable – such as medics in Emergency Departments – but undergirding the adrenalin challenges of such jobs, it’s likely the rest of their lives are fairly predictable.
But what about the people we call ‘control freaks’, who cannot cope with anything unpredictable? (Extreme cases of such people are those with OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – people who have a fear of germs and who may wash their hands umpteen times a day, clean down surfaces constantly, and fear going out in case they catch something. People with such conditions need expert help. Such people are beyond the scope of this article.)
Needing to be in control
Recently I read an article by a married woman who was wondering whether or not she should be a mother. She wrote that one of the reasons she felt motherhood was not for her, was that she couldn’t bear the thought of not being in control. She noted that some of her married friends with babies and young children seemed to live their lives in constant chaos, and she didn’t think she could cope with that. She liked life to be ordered, and constant, and to have a tidy house. (It also seemed that motherhood was all about her – she didn’t appear to be including her husband in the decision as to whether or not they should become parents.)
It is certainly true that people who ‘go with the flow’ appear to cope with the unpredictability of small children better. However, these tend to be people who are not the go-getters pursuing a career, and having a family at the same time. The women who are climbing the career ladder and juggling family, are sometimes the ones who feel they must have everything under control in order to be able to manage their lives. (I suspect these are the ones who are more likely to suffer from post-natal depression after a baby arrives.)
What about self-control?
One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. But this trait is referring to the quality of our interactions with others, to our ability to handle temptation, to the quality of our thought-life, and to what we fill our minds and hearts with. It’s how we react to what comes our way; it’s not referring to how we exercise control over our circumstances. For Christians, showing the fruit of the Spirit is an ongoing work for each of us.
Currently we are all experiencing uncertainty. There’s a pandemic affecting countless lives and families – how will it affect us? There’s an invasion in a sovereign European country – how far will that spread, and how will it affect us in NZ? There are issues with climate change – what severe weather event will happen next? And always in life, illnesses can strike, accidents can happen, untoward events can have repercussions far beyond anything we might have imagined.
Can we really be in control?
Being in control is a mirage. Yes, we manage our day-to-day lives to a certain degree; we can make plans, we can put systems in place to make our daily living more efficient or satisfying or helpful to the whole family. However, out of the blue we may find our lives turned upside-down, just as the Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion have found. In such circumstances being in control is impossible.
One Victorian poet wrote,“Man is captain of his fate, and master of his own soul.” In other words, human beings are in control of their own lives and have no need for God. It’s a totally secular stance. But it’s the ultimate snub of the Creator to think that. When everything is out of our control, for Christians then there is the opportunity to rely on the goodness and providence of God. Many people are now praying for Ukraine, and also for Russia – and in this technological age, we see Ukrainians too joining in prayer, both in Ukraine and in many parts of the world.
In contrast to the Victorian poet, the psalmist wrote, “All our times are in his hands.” Frequently we live as if ‘our times’ are under our control and it’s only when there’s a crisis that we may turn to God. The challenge is to live life in all seasons, when times are good and when they are bad, aware of and trusting in the God who has the whole world in his hands. Our security then is not in ‘being in control’, but in God himself.
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.