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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Control

Back when my daughter was two years old and I was single parenting three kids, we went to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister's house. Her family had set a delightful table, including gold-leaf decorated place cards. Each bore a name on the outside, and when unfolded displayed a sentence or two of what the writers appreciated about that person. My daughter's made reference to her "cute bossiness."

Now she's nine, and some things haven't changed much. The other day, she was talking about starting a (yet another) club. This one would be a homework helper club (read: "Let's play school; I get to be the teacher.") She was telling me how she'd already organized the club, and it's rules. Never mind that it didn't yet have any members -- she'd tell them what to do after they joined. Trying to contain my chuckle, I asked the question she should have come to anticipate by now: "Is it just possible that you might be a little bit of a control freak?"

"Of course it isn't," she repled, full of confidence.

"And if someone doesn't follow your rules, do they get punished?" I just couldn't help pushing. It's kind of amusing when she's so unaware what she's doing.

She rolled her eyes. "Of course not." She paused. "I just make them sit on a chair in the corner for a while."

Most of the family still finds it harmlessly amusing when our youngest girl tries to control everything. My husband says if she didn't keep her finger on the button, the world would stop spinning.

Yes, harmless. What's the big deal when a person without any real power pretends to be controlling the spinning of the earth?

Yet when that trait continues into adulthood, it can be a real problem -- not only to the people who have to deal with a controlling personality, but to the controller herself. Because none of us really has the control that we think we ought.

Our oldest daughter currently thinks she should have total control of her life, without any rules, guidelines, or advice. Just the money and shelter and free meals, but none of the bothersome parts of living with parents. But who really has that level of control? Does she think that adulthood brings such authority? Everyone has to answer to someone else: my children answer to me, and I answer to my husband. He answers to his boss, who answers to corporate, and they answer to the public. Ultimately, we all answer to God, whether we acknowledge Him or not. We can all try to influence those above us, but none of us has either the authority or the power to make someone else do anything, and we certainly do not have the power to force God to change His will.

When we think we do, or worse, think we should, we risk a lot. We risk hurting or angering those around us who need to be allowed enough space to interact with God themselves. We risk harming our own fragile emotional state with feelings of failure and stress; and we risk our eternal souls when we fear letting God be God. Some of the most dangerous spiritualities out there draw people in by offering them the power to influence God's domain by offering what belongs to God to other spirits.

When I got married after seven years of being divorced, my greatest relief was no longer feeling like I had to control everything by myself. One of the best parts of having a loving partner is having someone to share the responsibility with; and there is no more loving partner than God Himself.

Today let's make a resolution, you and I. Let's spend the day putting things in God's hands, and relax. He knows our needs better than we do.