I like all my books to be in the right places; all my bills to be paid well ahead of time; all the items checked off my to-do list at the end of every day. It doesn’t always happen, of course. But I do my best to leave myself with as few loose ends in my life as possible. And, sometimes, that can be a good thing. It can help me be reliable for other people; give me a decent credit score; and help me sleep at night, feeling that everything is under control.
But control can also be an idol – a kind of drug which, when we are unable to get it, drives us to irritability, irrationality, and sometimes great anxiety. And I don’t know that I ever realized how hooked a person can be until the last few weeks.
Recently – I trust through the wise providence of God – I have discovered that a number of my ducks have gotten out of line. In a handful of areas of proper paperwork and record-keeping, I haven’t crossed all my t’s or dotted all my i’s. But I didn’t realize it. It’s almost like the unruly ducklings were hiding under the bed so that, though they were out of place, I didn’t even know they existed! The details are unimportant (and relatively minor in the grand scheme of things), but suffice it to say that I have realized in recent weeks that there were a number of loose ends that needed tying up; a number of situations over which I had not exercised my patented system of checks, balances, and (most of all) control. And sometimes, when the ducks have wandered so far afield, it is very difficult to get every last one of them back into single file again – perhaps impossible.
That realization has really thrown me for a loop. You mean there are actually areas of my life which I thought I had under control, but which were actually botched and confused? I understand not being able to control car wrecks, and sickness, and world politics … but these are things that I had a firm grip on (or so I thought). And now I feel like I’ve woken up in the middle of a gigantic mess … one whose far flung splatters cannot possibly be all cleaned up to my satisfaction. I don’t have ultimate control!
Some years ago, a friend of ours walked down the stairs to discover that her sons had turned the basement floor into a makeshift Slip-and-Slide … using blue paint as a substitute for water! Years later, and after a great deal of clean-up, she was still discovering little splatters of blue pigment hiding here and there in various corners and crevices! That’s how I feel about my paperwork ducklings. I’ll never get everything fixed the way I want it; the way I think it must be.
But why must it be a certain way? Why must I be able to cross all the t’s? Why must I dot all the i’s? There are some good, and I hope, honorable reasons for wanting to do things the right way. And doing things the right way is not at all to be set aside as unimportant. But perhaps as much as anything, I am realizing that my thirst for control and order and detail has become a mechanism for not needing to trust God. If I have everything in order, I can go home at night, prop my feet up on the couch, read a good book, and have not a care in the world … and all of that with or without God.
Now, of course, I wouldn’t normally say it to myself quite like that: ‘I’m doing all these things and tying up all these loose ends so that I don’t have to trust the Lord.’ And I certainly haven’t taken up that pattern as a way of intentionally avoiding Him. But the root of having to have control over so many different details is a desire to trust someone I know I can count on – namely myself! And that has become painfully obvious as I’ve discovered more and more splotches of splattered paint that I’m finding nearly impossible to get cleaned up to my satisfaction. It all feels so, well, out of control … and it’s tied me in knots at times.
But are things out of control, really? Don’t I preach that God is sovereign over all things? That He not only turns all things for good, but actually means, and works, and designs them according to His own wise plans? I do. God is in control. And I believe that … in my head at least. But am I, on the strength of God’s control of my life, able to come home at night, prop my feet on the couch, and enjoy my wife and children without worries and fears? Am I able to rest in God … or only when I myself am in control?
These are hard questions. I know that I have not fully worked my way to the bottom of them yet (and may never, fully, in this life). I’m not even certain that, in these few lines of typeface, I am adequately communicating all that is in my heart. But I’ve been realizing, and wrestling with, and needing to repent of these things for several weeks now … and I thought it might be helpful to me (and maybe to a few of you) for me to allow my various thoughts to spill out onto the page – even if, like blue paint, I don’t have them all quite lined up in the right places yet.
The summary, I think, is just this: Very often – at least in my own experience – the desire for control; the insatiable quest to have all the ducks in single file is actually a mechanism for not having to trust in a God who knows and does far better than I … but whom, alas, I cannot see; and whose wise ordering of my affairs must be taken by faith, not sight.
I wish I could have learned these things without the recent set of unsettling circumstances. I wish, in other words, that I could have controlled the timing and severity of this lesson! How’s that for irony? But, ah, God is a better teacher than me. May we all learn to trust, more and more, in Him.