One of my favorite TV shows in the 1960s was "The Outer Limits." Who can ever forget the beginning of that show when it took over control of everything? It opened with a calm, detached, obviously-in-control voice saying,
I remember watching this and choosing to change channels (we only had 3 at that time!), just to ensure that I, and not this overconfident voice, was still controlling things.
I can control what channel I'm watching as long as you trust me with the controller. But beyond that, I don't control much.
One of life's great delusions is that we control many things. But most of what we experience is out of our control. I don't control the weather, or the expanding universe, or the microbiome that colonizes my body space. I don't control the foxes that live in my backyard, the sparrows that come to my feeders, or the bug I just saw in our family room. I don't control the outcome of my 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 meeting with you, but I do not control you. I don't control, I cannot control, the hearts and minds of other people.
I don't control 1% of 1% of 1% of all that is happening within me and without me. To embrace the illusion of control is to live in falsehood.
Conversely, I am controlled by many things. Which means, I am subject to the weather, the expanding universe, the colonizing microbiome, my DNA, global warming, and life's "circumstances." Addictive behaviors 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 simply 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." (Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 28. Emphasis mine.)
In a world where we control little, and we are subject to many things, what can we do? Here is what we are not to do, and then what we can do.
What not to do: try to control the essentially uncontrollable. This leads to bad outcomes, especially in relationships. Keith Miller writes that one answer...
"...is to try frantically to gain control of our work, our schedule and relationships. Our control attempts leave in their wake some very unhappy mates, lovers, children and parents who make up our nuclear families. Even our friends and co-workers are affected. There are few truly happy campers in the world of a controller.
There are millions of controllers - and we are burning out at an incredible rate. Our relationships are hollow, ragged, distant. We're exhausted and feel totally alone inside, even though we may be surrounded by people. Instead of achieving that serene and happy life that our frantic, controlling activity was supposed to produce, we have tense stomachs and bruised our broken relationships." (Keith Miller, Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships, xv)
What to do: trust. Trust in God, the only object worthy of trust.
Trust is the antidote to the futility of control. One way to engage trust is to pray. Henri Nouwen writes:
Pray to be free of the illusion of control.