I was driving to work yesterday when a radio advertisement for a funeral home summoned my attention. I'm not currently in the market for a coffin or cremation, but as the soothing tones of the ad-man's pitch filled the car, I was surprisingly impacted by his words. His message was not selling their services as the most efficient, luxurious or biodegradable—he appealed to a much deeper part of our humanity.
With not-quite-Don-Draper suaveness, he said, 'Do you want to go out with a bang? Loud noises and celebration? Or would you prefer a more quiet, reflective ceremony? Meet with us and make these decisions now, so you can have the funeral service that you desire'.
I've never had to organise a funeral for someone, and I can only imagine that it would be an incredibly stressful time. Having had the loved one's input into their ideas for the service would doubtlessly be helpful and make many of the decisions much easier.
Yet this ad was not appealing to this altruistic nature of the elderly. Instead, it was calling out to a deep-rooted desire to be in control. To call the shots even when you are gone—so that you can choose how others will remember you.
I don't like Twilight
New Zealand has recently been polarised by the case of Lecretia Seales, a lawyer who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Facing a long road of suffering before her end, Lecretia was engaging with the High Court to legalise her right to euthanise.
After the High Court's rejection of her bid, and her sudden passing of natural causes, newspapers, churches and Facebook feeds have fired different arguments as to our legal right to end our lives.
Although healthy debate on the matter is needed, I think there is a deeper point that all of us face. Does our desire to control every aspect of our lives hurt our ability to live well?
Like most Kiwi males, I don't like Twilight. The idea of watching werewolves and vampires participating in a love story is about as appealing to me as asparagus rolls. But this film catapulted the lead actress, Kristin Stewart, into the limelight. In one of her many media interviews, Kristin Stewart captured the voice of many, saying 'But, I'm kind of a control freak. I get really freaked out if I don't know what's going on and what's going to happen'.
There is a seemingly innate desire to control everything that occurs around us. Whether it's our public appearance, our online profiles, the schedules and rhythms we live by or the relationships we contribute to—so often, each of these realms becomes a battle ground for control.
Control ain't all bad...
Part of our original calling is to continue God's ordering work by bringing control and beauty out of chaos. As we learn to control our desires and emotions, a wider range of creative options open up to us. Increased control and awareness leads to great works of art, jaw-dropping athletic endeavours and high-functioning organisations.
Yet when the temptation to over-reach our bounds and control all aspects of life appears, we can fail to see the ripples of Genesis 3 and hear the whispered words—'you can be like God'.
We seek to control all we see and begin to believe that anything not under our power is out-of-control. Suddenly, when the unexpected happens, our illusion of power and grandeur can begin to crumble—and fear, anxiety or a Bella-like freakout come creeping in.
Those who know me will recognise my writing of these words is not the act of a wise sage, but one of a regularly failing controller. I struggle daily with the limits of what I can control, and know the cold sweat and beating heart of fear all too well.
But slowly—very slowly—I am also learning that giving up control is not an act of failure. Nor is it accepting a life out-of-control. Instead, it is the way of faith—trusting that although we may not have control, there is one who does.
Jesus didn't use Draper
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see many of his lessons come with a pointed barb for the control-mongers: the religious leaders who were too worried about controlling their schedule to stop for the beaten traveller; the foolish entrepreneur who sought to control his future by buying and building, charging and consuming, but couldn't stop his death; the son of a rich family that sought to control his future by seizing his inheritance too early. For each of these characters, their sense of autonomy was stripped bare—and the folly of their life was illuminated.
But more than just talking about it, Jesus lived a life acknowledging his willingness to let go of control into the hands of one greater. From chatting about his life's focus as following the lead of his heavenly father, through to his passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane—'Not my will, but yours be done'—we see the model of how to live fully alive.
Jesus' life was neither defined by a sense of desiring total control, nor was it a life that was out-of-control. Instead, it was a life of faith: a life that trusted God was in control of all, regardless of the circumstances; a life that believed that God was faithful, even when following this God leads to two slabs of timber and four Roman nails.
Jesus didn't plan his funeral—yet he received a resurrection party that is beyond the wildest imagination! And perhaps there's a lesson in this message as well. The life of faith-seeking understanding—not self-seeking control—leads not to fear, anxiety, doubt and depression, but instead to a place of serenity, joy, wonder and peace.
As we learn to embrace the limits of our humanity and trust the loving control of God, may we know the surprising freedom from not worrying about our perception or our funeral. The church's future beckons, a calling not to be control-freaks, but to be trusting followers, walking in the freedom of our limits.
Jeremy is an innovation advisor, curry-maker, muffin-baker and is learning to stop worrying about what people think of his writing.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html