Monday, November 4, 2013

The Illusion of Control

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Proverbs 19:21

My whole life, I have been something of a "control freak" (self-titled). I was the five-year old who sat down the kids at my babysitter's to "play school", making assignments and grading them. (Seriously. I even had a grade book.) I would not say I worked very hard in school, but I always did well. I didn't so much care about what I learned but about getting good grades and finishing everything. College proved much harder for me because I actually had to try. The result? Panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder. My compulsion to control made my heart race and my mind swim. "Real life" and marriage were less stressful (if only because they offered fewer opportunities to "fail"), and I reclaimed my groove.

Enter my son: September 2011. If you really want to feel powerless, have a child. I clearly remember our first night together in the hospital. I kept wanting to check on him and make sure he was breathing. After a while, I realized if I kept that up, I would not ever actually sleep. At some point, I was going to have to put my head on that pillow, close my eyes, and let go. I prayed and asked God to protect my son, realizing as I did that He had protected me every night as I slept. As my son grew, I realized all the ways I could not control his world: illness, traffic accidents, fire, chemicals - there are so many things that, even with the most discerning of thoughts and protective spirit, it is impossible to ward off all dangers. I grew in my prayer life, asking God to keep all those things at bay.

I thought I had "learned my lesson" when we found out we were expecting baby #2. I worried far less during my pregnancy, realizing with my son that obsessing over the growing baby in me didn't do one bit of good to him. I was genuinely excited for labor since I had some idea what to expect and figured it would be easier the second time around. I knew all my favorite gadgets and brands of clothing and tricks of the parenting trade, so I would obsess far less about figuring all those things out to the benefit of my second baby.

Enter my daughter: June 2013. My labor went beautifully and I arrived at the hospital ready and excited. Delivery went swimmingly as well (push, push, baby!), and that's where the roses and puppy dogs ended. I met her and knew something was wrong, not just from her tiny size but from all the questions the OB was asking me. I knew what was coming, right? I knew what she would look like and how she would smell and how she would act.

My daughter? She was not what I expected. After months of fatigue and discomfort and waiting and waiting and waiting, she came, but "she" didn't come. Not the "her" I had pictured in my mind, the one who would nurse from my body and snuggle deep into my still-squishy belly and cry for me and be instantly soothed when I held her. Instead I met this tense, tiny little ball of fight who had spent months battling for her life. She just wanted to sleep and while she nursed like a champ for a few minutes, she had to be taken and bottle fed and ultimately formula fed (allergic to my milk). After months in the hospital, she didn't find solace in a cuddle in momma's arms; she would rather fall asleep on her own. With severe hearing loss, I couldn't shush her to calm her; she couldn't hear me and slowly, I stopped making those comforting momma noises, knowing they were fruitless. For a mom who nursed her first child for a year, rocked him to sleep for every nap and bedtime, and swore by a sound machine for excellent baby sleeping, this baby was a foreigner, a whole new world to learn.

I thought God had beat the control freak out of me with my son, but as it turns out, I still thought I had things figured out. I thought I held the world in my hands and could dictate the eating and sleeping habits and general well-being of my children. My daughter was a slap in the face that said, "Aleah, you are not in control." Every time she finished a bottle or didn't finish one, every time she kept her platelets up or didn't, every time she gained weight or didn't -- I wasn't in control, not even for a second. For two months, other women cared for my daughter, feeding her, helping her to sleep, changing her diapers, bathing her. Even now, a whole host of other people make decisions on her behalf, decisions about feeding, medications, therapy, interventions. I am her advocate and her mom, but I am not in control.

Every time I consider this, I start to revert back to my panic-breathing college self. I start to feel a little woozy and nauseous and wholly overwhelmed. And in those moments, I hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart that says, "Shh, my child, I am right here." For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11)

You aren't in control. You can't control the weather or your health or your friends or your spouse or your kids or anything else. You might live until you're 90 smoking eight packs a day. You might die in your sleep tonight. You might succeed in your small business and become a millionaire. You might still be working at Kroger when you're 45. In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:10) Whew. This is hard, right? But, I'm doing this and I'm doing that and what are you doing, God? You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15) 

IF THE LORD WILLS. Hm. "I'm going to go to the store today." Wrong. "If the Lord wills." Yes. In the same sense that having control gives me panic attacks, having no control makes me hyperventilate too. Until I consider the character of the God who is in control. If you read nothing else in this post, read this: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7) I strongly encourage you to continue reading the passage. They are some of the most amazing chapters of the Bible. This God, the one who laid the foundations of the earth, for whom the stars sang, who watches over the birthing goat and the crashing waves of the sea -- He knows my children and my heart. HE is the one in control. Job responds to God's speech with this: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2)

The control I desire for my world is impossible. I will never be the one to sustain breath in my children. I will never be the one to keep their bodies healthy or their minds sharp or their ears clear. I will also not be the one to cleanse their hearts, and praise the Lord for that. If I have learned anything from my loss of control, it is that the One who DOES control all these things is far more capable, wise, loving, holy, and good than I could ever dream of being.

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