Chances are you know someone who is a control freak—a person determined to micromanage every detail of life at home, at work, and at church. Though mothers aren’t the only ones who can fall into the control trap, I think we are more prone to it because of the degree of control we need to exercise when our children are young. Some of us get stuck there, treating grown children as though they are two-year-olds who need to be protected, lest they dart into the path of an oncoming car. Little coincidence, perhaps, that “mother” can be transformed into quite another word simply by adding an s at the beginning.
Of course, some amount of control is necessary to every life. But outsize attempts at control are pathological, rooted more in anxiety than in any kind of lust for power. Being a control freak leads only to frustration and difficulty, because even when our attempts at control are successful, we have probably alienated someone in the process. What’s more, if we have a controlling style of relating to life, we may reach a point of no return, where the habit gets calcified and is nearly impossible to break.
One of my close friends has a mother who typifies this pattern. Suffering from dementia, she is still trying to control everything, though now she does it through a fog of confusion, without the ability to make sound decisions. This makes the family’s efforts to care for her much more difficult.
How do you know if you’re the controlling type? Just watch the way people respond to you, particularly members of your close family. They’ll let you know. If you find that the label control freak does apply, don’t brush it off as though it’s no big deal. It is a big deal. Think, instead, of what you might be missing because your style of responding to life makes it hard for God to care for you. Ask him for the grace to recognize when you are trying to exercise more control than you should. Stop now, before it is too late.
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When my children were young, I rarely had a moment’s peace. I adopted both of my girls when they were babies, and though I loved being their mother, I soon found that being single with children was a recipe for crazy making. Even something simple like mowing the lawn had to be carefully planned to coincide with nap time.
I remember one disastrous morning. I had forgotten to roll the trash can out to the end of the driveway so the garbage truck could empty it. Hurrying outside, I assured my five- and three-year-old children that I would be back in a moment. And I was. But in the space of that moment, a mini-calamity ensued. My youngest (a future basketball player) had a bad habit of throwing her dolly in the air and then catching it. While I was dragging the can to the curb, she threw the cloth doll up in the air, landing it in a pan of hot water simmering on the stove. Attempting to rescue the doll, her older sister, Katie, flipped it neatly out of the pan. As it sailed to freedom, my younger daughter caught it with ease. Only this time, that dolly was hot! Luci was howling with pain as I walked in the door.
Okay, I should not have left a pan of water simmering on the stove, even if it was on a back burner. But, really, who would have guessed that danger lurks everywhere, even in a cuddly, pink doll? If you have children, you have your own stories to tell. Like me, you have probably wondered if you will ever find a moment’s peace.
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that life unfolds as seasons. The season you are in now will eventually pass, and another will take its place. In the midst of life’s challenges, try to find a few moments to turn your heart to God in prayer. You might listen to an audio recording of Scripture while you’re driving, memorize a Bible verse while cooking, or read a psalm before bed. The God of peace will be there to help you, no matter how busy you are.
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If you’ve ever read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, you will be familiar with the fantasy creature called a “boggart.” The problem with boggarts is that they have the ability to turn into a person’s worst fears. So for Ron Weasley, it’s spiders, while for Harry Potter, it’s the notoriously creepy dementors. In more than one movie, we see Ron and Harry practicing their self-defense skills against boggarts, so if and when their worst fears do materialize, they are able to survive.
What boggarts are you facing? I used to be squeamish about snakes, but I can honestly say I’ve overcome the feeling. How? Simply by facing it. The fancy term for this technique is “conditioning.” The idea is to subject yourself to small doses of what you fear until you can gradually tolerate larger doses. Eventually, the fear will be reduced or eliminated.
I dealt with my dislike of snakes by giving in to my daughter’s entreaty for a pet snake. After a year of having Rico in our home, I attended a reptile expo at the urging of my daughter. This time, the repulsion I had previously felt was gone, despite the fact that there were more than fifty snakes in the room. I even found myself admiring the beautiful patterns on some of them. Believe me, I am still not a snake lover, but at least I am no longer creeped out by simply seeing one.
Maybe it’s time to ratchet up your confidence by overcoming a specific fear in your life. Ask God to help you face it rather than run from it. Doing so will weaken it and empower you.
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Last year I planted a tiny garden in my postage-stamp-sized backyard—cramming in peppers, carrots, red radishes, white radishes, lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes—lots and lots of tomatoes. So many tomatoes, in fact, that in just a few weeks, my raised garden bed looked like a giant tomato jungle. The plants were so thick that many of the other vegetables failed to thrive, unable to compete for the nutrition and sunshine they needed. Though I had plenty of tomatoes, I mourned the loss of the other plants and decided that I would do better next year, curbing my appetite for tomatoes so our family could enjoy a mix of vegetables.
Just like plants in a garden, there are things in our lives that will only grow if they are given the necessary space and nourishment—things like prayer, faith, rest, spiritual gifts, wisdom, serenity, and joy. Finding balance in life is rarely easy, in part because life is seasonal, always changing. There are times when work or family life makes unavoidable claims on our time and energy. We know that. But we also add things to our lives—even many good things—without giving the matter much thought. As always, having too many good things is not a good thing after all, because a harried schedule can choke out the life of God within us, preventing us from bearing the fruit God desires.
Take some time today to imagine your life as a garden. What does it look like? What plants does it contain? Have you kept up with the weeding? What needs thinning, pruning, or plucking out? Assuming you can do the necessary work to trim whatever needs trimming, is there anything new you would like to plant in your garden? Ask God’s Spirit to direct your thoughts, showing you the kind of garden God envisions for your life. Then ask for help to plan and plot the garden according to God’s direction. Watch and see what happens as you make the necessary changes in your life.
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