The Illusion of Control

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night overcome by fear? I don’t mean the kind of fear that somebody’s breaking in and trying to kill you. I can fight that fight, or send Margaret to do it. What I mean is the kind of fear that goes deep in your soul. The fear that I could lose my job and not be able to care for my family. The fear that I have not planned appropriately, social security is crashing, and my resources won’t be enough to take care of me in my old age. The fear that if I don’t get busy, get the job done, cover all the bases, save twice as much as I’ve been saving, spend half as much as I’ve been spending, get smart, don’t mess up, run faster and harder, I’m screwed – but that probably won’t be enough either. This is my version of a paralyzing fear that life is coming apart and I can’t control any of it.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but recently at 3AM, while on sabbatical in Colorado, I woke to such a terror. It was triggered by a conversation with a guy that seemed to have it all together. He seemingly saved wisely, planned thoroughly, made good money and was expecting a very healthy retirement, in my opinion.  He similarly wasn’t sure he could live on what he had saved, but it seemed sufficient to me. At 3AM that night I was pretty freaked out; certain my financial ship was too little and the waves too big and everything was way out of control.

If you’re reading this and you’re under 40, this may not resonate with you financially, but it may in other areas of life, like your career, family, worn out cars, or other things that seem out of control. Regardless of the issue, it’s the fear that you’re really not in control of your life. Fear that you cannot protect your children from harm, fearful that things aren’t working out in your world. Fear that terrorism, money, relationships, work, the future is beyond your control.

Of course, things are not ordinarily way out of your control, because you can plan, save, lock your doors and protect your family as best you know. You do your best, forget the rest and normally that seems to work. But still you make mistakes, and stuff happens. And if you think about the bad stuff that could happen, or the good stuff that may not, or when unexpected stuff happens (you can insert a shorter S word here) sometimes it’s messy,  painful, and frightening. We face the reality that we are not in control.

The reality is, beyond the best application of our wits and wisdom, the best application of our gifts, the best planning we can fathom, and the realization we are not always at our best, things are really not in our control. You and I are but one person among nearly 7,000,000,000 humans on the planet and in addition to them, there are 700 billion variables including astroids, atom bombs and even weather anomalies that can take us out in the blink of an eye.

So if you weren’t terrified, maybe you are now. Welcome to my 3AM experience. Misery loves company, let’s freak out together. Or let’s let go of our illusions together.

The truth is I am not in control, and neither are you. The illusion of control is a lie of the enemy. It is a lie meant to steal our joy by filling us with fear and anxiety.

Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;

I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

If the enemy can convince us that we are in control, or must strive to be in control, then he’s convinced us that we need be our own god. The lie from the beginning (Gen. 3) is, Turn from God, be your own god, take control! If we buy the lie then we grab at a task that is far too great and burdensome. The job will wreck us; it is a weight we cannot bear and a burden well beyond our capacity. But if we demand to be in control, our joy will be stolen and our peace destroyed. Joy will be replaced by anxiety as we seek to manage things beyond our control; subtly, slowly and frantically we become aware that things will not go well under our control. To depend on self, to cling to self and illusions of control will kill us.

The alternative is to lay down our illusions and live, accepting that we are not in control and that’s ok, God is. To walk in the light of the love of Christ, trusting he is in control and for our good (Ps 118:1; 1Cor.1:8-9; Phil 2:13; Heb.10:23). This feels vulnerable and out of control, because it is a vulnerable place of trust. It is a choice to rest in the safe, strong arms of our Sovereign Father.  It is a choice to live abundantly as His beloved child, not our own master.

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1Thes 5:25).

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