The Illusion of Control
I have been flying a lot lately, and I find there is nothing like a flight delay or cancellation to highlight how much we Americans value autonomy and control. We expect to go where we want when we want, and we deeply resent interference by any human or natural force. (In fact, in most cases the word "resent" is far too tame.)
Oh, how hard we try to be masters of our own destinies! We "control" the course of our days with carefully planned time management tools and tightly scheduled itineraries. We "control" aging with dye, lotions, surgeries, and toxins. We "control" our image with assumed masks and behaviors, to the point that many people believe others only like them because they don’t really know what’s inside. We "control" sickness with machines, medicines, procedures, and ever-new cures. We even seek to "control" dying, preferring to kill ourselves rather than let death proceed naturally. We desperately seek to imitate the young Peter who, in typical "American dream" fashion, was able to dress himself and go where he wanted to go.
Admittedly, there is much we do actually control, and I have a responsibility to make the best decisions I can in those arenas. Yet the circumstances of my life, especially lately, have reinforced the folly of believing that any of us actually wields as much control as we’d like to believe. Babies die, dementia takes hold, floods defy levees, people make unpredictable decisions, recessions hit, tornadoes strike in random paths, accidents happen, loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, traffic snarls, carefully laid plans go awry, and we often end up in places or situations we never would have expected. Jesus warns that we cannot do what we want at every turn. Far more often we are bound by that metaphorical belt, and led somewhere we would rather not go.
Am I willing to allow my illusion of control to be shattered? Am I willing to be led into difficult situations, confrontations, aging, and even death? Can I surrender my life and learn to be drawn by something greater than myself rather than pushed by my desperate striving for control? Can I find grace and love in unexpected and even tragic events? Something deep inside me is terrified by those thoughts. Instinctively I know that more often than not, I will stretch out my hands and someone else will lead me where I do not want to go. I know that placing trust in my personal ability to control my life and destiny is an exercise in futility. I keep striving for it anyway.
Yet if I assume that I am NOT in control, perhaps I can live with less stress and more freedom. If I assume that there will be losses, glitches, and challenges at every turn, perhaps I can better appreciate what I have while I have it. If I know things will not go as planned, perhaps I can be open to see new things unfold. Instead of spending energy raging against unwanted occurrences in my life or protesting that I don’t deserve what is happening, perhaps I can accept their inevitability and use my energy to cope and to heal. If I love freely and deeply even though I know I will be hurt and will eventually lose my beloved, perhaps the joy I experience will be worth the pain. If I trust that when I am nailed to the cross Christ is nailed there with me, perhaps I can also believe that with God’s help I can overcome and even reach resurrection. If I let go of the need for absolute control, perhaps I can live so fully that I will arrive at my death bed without regrets. Can I let go?
I wish I could answer without reservation. For now, perhaps it is enough to know I am working on it and I hope I am getting better. Check back with me next week when yet another flight gets canceled.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.