The Illusion of Control
The highway was a spectacular sheet of ice. I was the seventeen-year-old behind the wheel. And I had pretty much everything in life figured out. I was that good.
Here’s what you do. First, you put weight in the back of the truck. So early that morning I loaded several bales of alfalfa hay in the bed of my Ford. Bingo. That’d do the trick. Next, when you’re driving on ice, you take your sweet time. So I did, crawling along the shiny sheet of asphalt like grandma on a Sunday drive. Next, if you must hit the brakes, you just tap them. Don’t lock them down or you’ll find yourself on winter’s version of a slip-and-slide.
See, I knew what to do: weigh the truck down, drive slow, tap brakes. Simple. It may have been a nasty day in the Texas panhandle, but I was in control of the situation.
And then there came this hill. The hill with a menacing 45 degree curve at the bottom. The hill I had no choice but to slow down for. So ever so lightly I tapped my brakes. And, in a heartbeat, my drive to school became a carnival ride. Down the hill I went, the Ford suddenly an automotive ballerina, spinning round and round. I blacked out or freaked out or both. The next thing I remember was blinking at my driver’s side window, for I all saw were frozen blades of grass, and out of the passenger’s window only a grayish morning sky. There I lay, my truck on its side, in the ditch, after I’d done everything right. I was seventeen years old. And I was learning a very important lesson about the illusion of control.
I escaped unscathed that day, though my Ford was pretty beat up. But that was one of many lessons I’ve learned about control and its illusory appeal. In some of my other lessons, things didn’t end nearly so well. They didn’t kill me, but I stumbled away with injuries to the heart and soul from which I will never completely recover. And given what I know about myself, perhaps that’s best. Like Jacob, maybe I need to limp. Like Paul, maybe I need a thorn in the flesh. Some of us need scars, inward as well as outward, as a constant reminder that we are not in control.
It’s one thing for your life to spin out of control when you’re flagrantly breaking every law God ever made, but what about when you’re really trying to do God’s will? The day I wrecked my truck, I followed all the right steps. Then came the icy hill and my illusion of control was shattered. And so it goes in life. You do everything you can think of to be a good wife, to make your husband happy, but he still prefers bars and blondes over evenings with you. You take your children to church and Sunday School; teach them good manners and a hard work ethic and chastity; warn them over and over about the dangers of drugs and alcohol; and still they end up sleeping with God knows who, snorting God knows what, and basically wrecking their lives. You hit the gym, eat right, take your vitamins, avoid cigarettes, still look pretty darn good in a swimsuit, then find out in your mid-40’s that you’ve got stage four cancer. You discover—as a spouse, a parent, a child of this world—that you were in control of nothing. It was all an illusion.
Some well-meaning friend will likely tell you, Don’t worry. God’s in control. Like that’s supposed to help. So, you’ll think, God is the one who orchestrated my husband’s infidelities? God is the one in control of my child who’s strung out on cocaine? God is the one who caused my cancer? The Lord is the sadist behind all this pain and disappointment and heartache and loss and grief? He’s in control? Well, now, isn’t that a relief, to know that heaven itself has made my life a living hell.
Know this: it’s not a matter of who’s in control in this life—you, God, some nameless power in the universe, or none of the above. Focus on control and you’ll end up with nothing but confusion and frustration and disappointment. It’s not about who’s in control in this life but whose you are in this life. It’s about the Christ who claims you as His own, who has promised to be with you every step of the way in a life that often spins seemingly out of control.
Jesus knows a thing or two about a life that’s full of more downs than ups, about a life punctuated by physical and emotional disasters, about friends who’d rather sleep than help Him in His greatest time of need, about the forked tongues of foes who parade around spreading slander, about family members who think He’s gone off the deep end, about pains of body and soul that just keep getting worse. He’s walked that walk. If anyone has been in your shoes, Jesus has.
But He’s not just able to sympathize with you, to tell you He knows how you feel. That’s fine and dandy, but you need more. And He gives you more. He says, “Listen, you can’t do this alone. I’m going to merge the two of us into one, so that whatever you suffer, I suffer; whoever trashtalks you, trashtalks me; whenever it feels like you’re freefalling into the yawning pits of a hellish depression from which you’ll never recover, I’ll be there to hold you and help you through it until you emerge from that pit into the light of hope once more. I’m not a halfass God. I’m in this with you, for you, in you totally. I sunk you into me in those baptismal waters. I found you in the font and you found me. I made you mine and me yours. Hell can rage all it wants, but it can’t pry you from my grasp. I’ve got your back and your front, your heart and your soul, all the way down to the inner core of your being. I am yours and you are mine. Nothing and no one can separate us.”
You see, everything good that belongs to Jesus belongs to you, and everything bad about you belongs to Jesus. Not just your sins and shortcomings, but your sufferings, your losses, your rebellious children, your cheating husband, your backstabbing brethren, your cancer, your everything. Forget control; you’ve got Christ. And He’s not about control but about saving you, loving you, holding you when your life spins out of control.
And that’s no illusion. That’s the real thing, the real promise, from the real Christ.
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