(Mary) If there is one thing we have painfully learned in this upside-down year, it is that most of our life is out of our control.
This was true to some degree before the pandemic hit, but just think of how little control you now have over what you do, where you go, what you wear, where you work. This is the most difficult aspect of this pandemic world for most of us to deal with. We have lost control of so much of our lives
I read something years ago that said, “If you will control the controllable, you can cope with the uncontrollable.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. If I will focus on controlling what I can control, the sudden and severe loss of control in my life, imposed on me by authorities and conditions beyond my control, won’t feel so severe.
How much energy have you wasted trying to regain control, fretting because you can’t get back the controls of your life? Even in normal times we struggle to control situations and people, but is it not more true now than ever? We try our best to control uncontrollable situations or people, manipulating here and there, discovering in frustration that our efforts are futile.
So, maybe this is a good time for us to think about what we can and cannot control, and seek God’s help in accepting the uncontrollable and focusing on making sure what we can control is in good shape. What are the things in our lives we cannot control, even before the pandemic hit?
(Alice) The weather is one of the most common uncontrollable things in our lives and it’s universal. We all have weather and none of us can control it.
(Mary) How much of our time and energy is often wasted on complaining about the weather, wishing it were different, hoping it will be good, or depressed because it’s lousy.
(Julie) For most of us, the most difficult “uncontrollable” in our lives are people. If you’re married, you learn pretty quickly that you cannot control your mate—at least not as much as you’d like to.
(Alice) And you learn you can’t really totally control your children – right? At least not when they’re all grown up.
(Mary) As tough as the terrible two’s can be, at least at two-years-old, you can pick that child up and control his or her actions through physical restraint, if nothing else. But as they grow older, you realize how helpless you are to control the behavior of your children. Some have grown children who are now drug-dependent, or alcoholics, or living in sin, or walking away from their Christian upbringing. You can talk, you can cry, you can even pray earnestly, but you cannot by yourself control that child who now has the freedom to behave as he or she pleases.
I think of a dear friend who is patiently trusting God to bring her son back to her. He was raised in a Christian home, but has chosen to abandon all that he was taught. For many years he has lived a lifestyle foreign to Christian beliefs, and she longs to see him change and come back to God. She will never give up hope nor will she quit praying, but the facts are, she cannot herself control his behavior. If she could, he would have long ago changed and would now be living for Jesus.
And when you think about your job, you recognize there are things on the job—people on the job—that are definitely not in your control. Like your boss!
(Alice) We get prayer requests from some of our listeners asking us to pray about the relationship issues they’re dealing with on their jobs.
(Julie) There are lots of uncontrollable aspects to any job we do, even the jobs we like. Sometimes you can get stuck with a co-worker who you would change in a minute if you could—some irritating habit or their work ethic or just a personality clash perhaps—we don’t usually have control over the people we work with.
(Mary) I remember a close friend of mine who worked for over two years with a woman who was pretty close to intolerable. She made every day on the job a difficult and unpleasant experience. Believe me, if my friend could have changed her and controlled her words and actions, she would have. However, she had to learn to accept the fact that she could never control that person’s behavior.
Another thing we cannot control is our heritage. You had absolutely no choice about the family you were born into.
(Alice) That’s so true. How many people do we know who are burdened with baggage from their childhood because of dysfunctional families.
(Julie) They sometimes spend years of their adult lives trying to recover from the painful experiences of their childhood. And that can range from simple personality clashes to abuse of all kinds.
(Mary) Yes, the family we were born into is beyond our control. Our heritage from that family is not controllable. We could not control whether we were born a boy or a girl. No indeed, our heritage is beyond our control
Our past is also beyond our control. For some of us, if we could just do something about that past, we would. The sins and mistakes, the bad decisions, the wrong turns—they haunt us and we often imagine what life would be like if we could just control that past.
I think of a Christian friend who married a man that she knew was not a Christian. She was well aware of the potential problems but chose to marry him anyway. After many years of marriage she had to learn to cope and live with the situation, because she could not control or change that bad decision she made that affected her entire life.
You know, there’s not one thing you or I can ever do to change our past. It’s already in the books, and as painful or as difficult or unfair as it may seem, you cannot control your past, any more than you can control your heritage.
(Alice) And now, in addition to all those on-going “non-controllables,” we have had much of our controllable life simply taken from us. We are not allowed to do many of the things that enriched our lives or gave us great joy. Many have not been allowed to even be with sick or dying relatives or to honor them as you normally would.
(Mary) Like never before, we have been brought face-to-face with the fact that very little of our lives is in our own control. And how has that affected us? We have more suicides than ever; mental health issues are surfacing everywhere; relationships are under strains and pressures never before experienced. For sure there are many, many things in life that are not controllable. In general, we are more irritable, less patient, less content, less tolerant than usual–isn’t that true?
Maybe you’ve even considered just running away from it all. David put words to our run-away tendency when he wrote: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 55:6). But right now travel is not that easy to do, right? So even that option seems to have been taken from us.
However we try to control the uncontrollable, we always end up in frustration and disappointment, and we do ourselves great harm. We build up anger and bitterness, which damages us greatly. We get vindictive and vengeful. And when we live in that mode of trying to control the uncontrollable, we add immense stress to our lives!
Can you even begin to think of the time and energy and emotions you’ve wasted on the uncontrollable things in your life? I’ve certainly done my share of wishing and fretting and complaining and trying to manipulate uncontrollable things and people. And when I do that I use up immense quantities of emotional energy for nothing, when it could have been spent in a productive way.
Also, when we are trying to control the uncontrollable person in our lives, what we are actually doing is allowing that person, by our actions, to destroy our joy. Discovering that we cannot control them, but continuing to try, we are at their mercy! Our happiness, peace, and/or contentment depend on their behavior, performance or attitude. So, we find ourselves on an emotional roller-coaster ride: Up when they are behaving well, and down when we can’t control their behavior.
And then when we are frustrated because we can’t control the uncontrollable, it takes its toll on our spiritual well-being. Our fellowship is broken, and we suffer greatly because we don’t have his love and strength to help us. Why do we do that? God didn’t fail us; he didn’t leave us or forsake us. He wants to give us peace that passes understanding; when we don’t have that peace, it’s because we have forsaken him, not vice-versa.
It’s hard to learn not to try to control the uncontrollable. Not long ago I had to deal with a truly uncontrollable situation, and I kept trying and trying to bring it under control. I was frustrated, couldn’t sleep well, couldn’t function nearly as productively as usual, because I was so consumed with trying to fix what wasn’t “fixable.” Finally I heard that inner voice of God’s Spirit saying, “You will never be able to tie a bow on this package,” meaning no matter what I did, the situation would not improve. So, I had to let it go without a solution, without an ending, without a “happily ever after.” That’s very hard for me to do.
Those times teach us to trust in our Heavenly Father; they teach us to recognize how weak and helpless we truly are. They teach us humility and faith and dependence on God.
Remember this: When the uncontrollable things or people in our lives are making us miserable, it is because we allow them to do that to us. They can’t keep us on that roller coaster if we decide to get off. How do you get off? By choice; by a set of your will; by much prayer; and by the power of God’s Spirit within you. It takes determination on your part, but if God doesn’t supply the power, you’re not likely to be able to get off that roller coaster very easily.
What are you facing in your life right now that is uncontrollable? There is undoubtedly something or someone—maybe more than one. How have you been coping with that uncontrollable thing or person? In fear or frustration or anger or despair?
I have great news for you. If you will focus on controlling the controllable, you will be able to cope with the uncontrollable. I want to encourage you to know that you do not have to continue to be a prisoner of the uncontrollable things and people in your life. Jesus Christ has come to set you free from all prisons, and he is totally capable of doing just that.
Are you willing to let go of that uncontrollable thing or person? To admit you cannot control or change them? Are you tired of living in denial, or trying to run away? Are you ready to forsake the bitterness and vengeance that has built up over the uncontrollable thing or person? That’s where it all begins—in your mind and in your will.
God is able and ready to take that uncontrollable thing or person and carry the burden for you. Whether it ever is resolved or not, he is there to give you all the help and support you need, but he can’t do a thing until you confess that it is beyond your control. Will you do that today—right now? I have a prayer for those of you who are willing to do that. Will you pray with me right where you are?
Father, there are many people listening who have been living in such total frustration over some “uncontrollable” in their lives. I pray right now that they will be willing to obey you and turn those burdens over to you in exchange for your burden, which is light. I pray they will continue to let go of the “uncontrollables,” and every time they’re tempted to pick them up again and start worrying or manipulating or getting bitter, I pray they will remember that they cannot control the “uncontrollables,” but you can. Teach us this important truth, I pray, Father.