Tag Archives: controlling

Control – Do You Really Have Any?

Control

I hate being out of control. I might go so far as to say I don’t know what to do when I am out of control The feeling is there must be something I can control. Oh, maybe I can control Nan. That should help. (Stop laughing)

At least that is one aspect of control. The other is a desperate fear of being controlled.

“Nobody is going to tell me what to do. No way, no how. I got enough of that growing up.”

I don’t know which side of the equation you might fall on – maybe both depending on the situation. I know at times I have flip-flopped between the two. I do know for sure that neither responses work very well. Both will isolate me from people, often when I need them the most.

What fuels both is clear to me: fear. And it’s fear which leads to sin. It separates me from God as well as others. I really don’t like admitting how vulnerable I feel sometimes. Whenever I operate in this way I am really trying to protect the self that I cling to so frantically. The result can not only be withdrawing to protect, but also pushing away others with anger, manipulating, playing the victim, etc. All of those are control mechanisms.

There are reasons why we might operate out of fear. Prior experiences where we have been controlled, particularly traumatic events, may trigger intense fear. Or living in very chaotic circumstances may also generate feelings of needing to maintain control and order over our current environment. Whenever sexual, emotional or physical abuse has occurred, control becomes a survival strategy.

But what do we DO?

Growing up I lived in an environment that had both a controlling parent and a chaotic parent. Of course they were always at odds with each other and I felt controlled by their conflicts. Maybe you have experienced this kind of confusion as well. I learned to hide from my feelings by practicing piano for hours a day. It was something I could control and was seen as a positive pursuit. I could redirect the anger I felt and turn it into a joyful and productive skill.

My conclusion here is that when we are feeling out of control it is possible to focus on something that we can control: ourselves. Sometimes I can’t control a particular situation, and I shouldn’t try to control another person. But I can find a positive way to express my frustration and relieve the anxiety to a certain extent. I did it with music. Others take up a sport or woodworking or reading or another hobby or anything to take the mind away from the restless place it wants to go.

On the other hand if I am feeling controlled I can set reasonable boundaries with the controller. I detach and distance from them as kindly as I can if necessary. I do not let myself be the prey of a bully. That will only lead me to resentment and anger and more fear.

In either case we turn to God and cry out for mercy. We study his word and his promises. We turn away from that constant pull towards sinful thoughts and actions. We pray, we grieve, we surrender and we trust. And we do it over and over again until it becomes a habit.

Listening Is Not Agreement

disagreement

I want to admit a character defect I have fought for most of my life. I am not proud of it, but I have grown because of it. Maybe you can relate to it as well. Here it is:

In my marriage (especially) I had an expectation that Nan not only had to hear me out, but also had to agree with me.

In other words, she had to think like me or she wasn’t being a good or loyal wife. Pretty narcissistic, huh? Pretty arrogant, too. It led to some uncomfortable conflicts and to some misunderstandings as well.

I think this is one of the blocks to good communication, not only in marriage but in other relationships as well. If my belief is that by listening to someone that means that I tacitly agree, I probably will be reluctant to listen. In our case that was the unspoken message I was sending to Nan: I want you listen to me, but I also insist that you agree. But the problem was that she didn’t always agree. And I made it hard for her to listen.

It’s usually not so destructive when the stakes are small – where to eat, what color to choose, etc. But it gets very tense when the big issues are on the table. Where do we live and which house do we buy? How do we raise our children? How do we interpret the Bible and our faith? For example, Nan was raised Catholic for a time and as a result is more contemplative in her spiritual practices than I am.

I am a dreamer (I prefer the word visionary) Whatever. Here’s the rub. In our conversations Nan didn’t always know the difference when I was just dreaming or if I was actually planning. So she didn’t know how to fully engage with me when I was dreaming because my dreams were often scary to her, involving writing big checks or making long distance moves. And she didn’t want me to assume she was in agreement with them. So she didn’t always want to listen to me. I felt alone.

Since those days a few things have changed. I have repented of my need to have her agree. I still want her to agree with me (who wouldn’t), but I have given up my need for her to do so for me to be to be OK with her.

Second, I now let her know when I am just dreaming out loud so she can relax and even join in the fun. And I keep the checkbook out of reach, safely locked in a drawer.

For those of us who are Christians, it can become tempting to use scripture to try to control or manipulate others, and we must guard against misuse of the Bible. That’s just another way to try to force agreement. Even when it’s not intentional, we can come off as legalistic or unloving. When I quote scripture I try to be extra humble and remember that context is everything. I try to let the scriptures be the authority, not me.

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

The Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:27

Loopholes

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In Christian circles we often talk about legalism or “living under the law” vs. “living under grace”.

Those who have been hurt, but have not fully embraced forgiveness, are often looking for justice. It is understandable from a human perspective. Then there is another side to the equation – those, because of their wrongdoings, who are trying to escape justice and receive mercy, or better yet, grace. That too is an understandable position.

  • Justice is getting what you deserve
  • Mercy is not getting bad things that you deserve (punishment or retribution)
  • Grace is getting good things that you absolutely do not deserve (unearned favor)

I really admire those who search the scriptures diligently so that they can fully follow God in the way they conduct themselves in life and relationships. But there is another way that scriptures can be used as well – as a rationalization to punish, control or avoid. This is where loopholes come into the picture.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a loophole as:

  1. An error in the way a law, rule, or contract is written that makes it possible for some people to legally avoid obeying it.
  2. A means of escape; especially: an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded.

Are you looking for loopholes in the scripture to justify your wrong desires or behaviors?

In definition #2 above it clearly states that there is an intent in statutes or laws that is to be understood and followed. This is what law abiding or good-hearted people seek to incorporate into their personal life script. (For purposes of this discussion I am not talking about occasions where man’s laws and God’s laws are in conflict).

  • When seeking justice do you ignore the scriptures that call for forgiveness, mercy, turning the other cheek (and many more) in favor of “an eye for an eye”?
  • When trying to justify immoral sexual behaviors do you minutely examine words like “fornication” or “purity” or others hoping that God’s intent for us as Christians has been incorrectly interpreted by the church for centuries?
  • When wanting to blame, shame, criticize or control someone do you quote scriptures that speak about ‘iron sharpening iron” or “faithful are the wounds of a friend” or “confronting sin”? Are you truly concerned for them, or are you really trying to exercise power over them?

The Bible tells us that God is concerned about our hearts out of love for us. When our hearts aren’t right, our lives and our world is not right. Matters of justice are tricky and best left for God to deal with. It is said that we want justice for others, but mercy and grace for ourselves. So, are you most interested in the “letter of the law” or “the intent of the law”?

Loopholes are our way of trying to return power and control to ourselves (leaning on our own understanding) instead of trusting that God’s ways are good.