Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Praying Is Trusting, Not Controlling

Valley Forge, PA

            One of my favorite TV shows in the 1960s was "The Outer Limits." I remember the opening scene when the show took over control of everything. A calm, detached, obviously-in-control voice said… 

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits."

I remember watching and, just to be safe, changing channels (we only had 3 at that time!) to verify that I, and not this totalitarian voice, was really controlling things.

Part of me likes being in control and fears being out of control. I can control the channel I'm watching as long as you trust me with the controller. But I have learned that, in actuality, I don't control much in life.

One of life's great delusions is that we control many things. Yet most of what we experience in life is out of our governance. We don't control the weather, the expanding universe, or the microbiome that colonizes our body space. We don't control the foxes that live in our backyard, the sparrows that come to our feeders, or the bug I just saw in my family room. We don't control the outcome of our DNA or the laws of gravity. I place my fingers on my wrist and check my heart rate, which I have little control over. I program my phone to remind me of the coming meeting with you, but I do not control you. I cannot control the hearts and minds of other people.

I am not in charge of 1% of 1% of 1% of all that is happening within and without.  To embrace the illusion of control is to live in falsehood.

Conversely, I am controlled by many things. I am subject to the weather, the expanding universe, the colonizing microbiome, my DNA, global warming, and life's "circumstances."

Addictive behaviors may control me. I am a slave to anything that controls me. Anything I cannot repeatedly say "No" to controls me. Clinical psychiatrist Gerald May writes:

"Loss of willpower is especially important for defining the difference between the slavery of true addiction and the freedom of sincerely caring about something or of choosing to satisfy simple desires. If you find yourself saying, "I can handle it," "I can stop it," or "I can do without it," try to perform a very simply test: simply go ahead and stop it. Do without it. If you are successful, there is no addiction. If you cannot stop, no amount of rationalization will change the fact that addiction exists."[1]

In a world where I control little and am subject to many things, what can I do?

What I am not to do is: try to control the essentially uncontrollable. This leads to bad outcomes, especially in relationships. We may frantically attempt to control others, but this produces unhappy friends, children, co-workers, and lovers. “There are few truly happy campers in the world of a controller.”[2]

What I must do is: trust. I must trust God. Trusting God is the antidote to the futility of control. One way to trust is to pray. "In the act of prayer, we undermine the illusion of control by divesting ourselves of all false belongings and by directing ourselves totally to the God who is the only one to whom we belong."[3] 

Pray to be free of the illusion of control. 

[1] Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 28. Emphasis mine. San Francisco: Harper, 1988.
[2] Keith Miller, Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships, xv.  Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, 1992.
[3] Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 39