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Control Freak

March 21, 2020
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Our cat, Gracie, is a control freak. I think this may be generally true of cats to a greater degree than dogs. Dogs are attention freaks, but not generally control freaks. They just want you to touch them, pet them, talk to them, feed them, throw something for them to chase and bring back to you.

Cats – our cat, anyway – only wants to be touched or petted or even fed on her terms. When, where, how she wants. If you put the wrong food in the bowl, food that doesn’t meet her high standards, she sniffs it once and walks away with her nose in the air. Dogs, on the other hand, will eat most anything, including underwear and socks.

Believe it or not, this control freakishness is one of the things I actually like about Gracie. She’s independent. She doesn’t need me until she wants to need me. For some reason this is appealing to me.

Since this period of social isolation and distancing has been going on, I’ve discovered that I, too, am a control freak. This isn’t exactly new news. I should probably say I’ve “re-discovered” that I’m a control freak. I’ve been told I’m a control freak before. By people who just don’t want to do things they way they should be done. My way. Anybody who’s been in one of my choirs (back in another lifetime) will say this is true.

But as the days stretch on, I find my urge to control my world more and more frustrating, because my world is getting smaller and smaller. There’s no place to go. Restaurants are closed. And besides, I’m attempting the very low carb diet thing, so there aren’t many fast food joints that have much that I should eat, and I’m too cheap to spend the money on finer dining. It’s not golf weather. Although I love to play golf (I’m not good at it, but I still love it – a masochistic tendency) I’ve become a fair weather golfer. So there’s little allure to hit the links when the conditions are very far below optimal. There’s only so much I can do with my yard, and I’ve already done it. My world is shrinking. At this point, it’s pretty much my house. And although God has provided a wonderful house for us, it feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller by the day.

Here’s the problem. The smaller my world gets, the less there is for me to control. This is frustrating. Vexing, really.

Anybody else feel my pain?

Even people who don’t feel they’re control freaks and those wonderful people who by temperament or maturity are able to keep themselves from controlling (or trying to control) others are probably feeling a little of the bind of this control thing. They may not be as vexed as we control freaks, but as their worlds get smaller, they’ll be feeling at least a little of the pinch of the control thing.

Which brings me to the point of my diatribe. Control is an illusion. If you didn’t pick that up from the last few weeks, you weren’t paying attention. If it’s not an illusion, then it’s incredibly fragile. Brittle, even. Pop it in the right place at the right time and it will crumble.

At this point, every major power on the planet is spending unimaginable resources in an effort to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. They’re making progress, and we should all be thankful for this. Medicine and government and industry are joining hands and working in relative harmony to get this monster under control.

But when this objective is reached, when the curve is flattened, and life can go back to some sort of normalcy, will we really be in control?

I try to not be a pessimist, but I readily admit I’m not an optimist. My goal is to be a reasoned realist. So realistically, at best, our control over this virus will only be relative. We will be able to mitigate the far-reaching devastation it would have brought had it been left unchecked, but the only way to truly control it would be to make it cease to exist. Realistically, that isn’t likely to happen. Smallpox and polio went away, but didn’t cease to exist.

If we can’t control this, if control is, after all, an illusion, then what are we supposed to do? Just lay down on the tracks and let the train run us over? Pretend that by effort we can stop the train when it gets to us, and resist mightily? Or might there be something somewhere between these two extremes?

Here’s what I think is in the middle: I can only control what I do about what happens to me. This is called responsibility. Or, as author Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, response-ability. We have the ability to respond. We have it within us to choose what we will do about what happens to us.

We all have this ability, but only the mature are able to exercise it. Without maturity, we will only react to what happens to us. Normally these reactions will come from instinct, the most powerful of which is the survival instinct. My experience from my own life and from years of helping others is that this particular instinct must be educated and directed or else it will treat all threats as threats to survival, and will fight or flee, even though neither fighting or fleeing are always called for. In other words, the survival instinct will often land us in needless conflict and relationship crises that could have been avoided with a more rational response. There’s a ton more in this, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

We have to be taught how to respond instead of merely reacting. The first and primary place this happens is in one’s family of origin. Some people have had the blessing of being raised in a family where this was modeled and taught directly. This is a HUGE blessing! Others, in fact, the majority, have been raised in a family where reacting was standard operating procedure. These homes are filled with conflict – verbal and even physical. So much emotional damage comes from homes like these. And this pattern of emotional reaction and damage replicates itself through generations until it is somehow stopped, when someone in the system learns how to respond instead of reacting.

Stopping the generational pattern is a huge challenge if you were raised in a reacting home. Doable, but doable hard. It starts with telling yourself the truth I shared above: You can control what you do about what has happened to you. You can choose your response. You have response-ability. Start there. Start by consciously reminding yourself that you can choose your response. For most people, saying it out loud to yourself is the best way to remind yourself. By starting here, you’ll be setting yourself up to cultivate a rational response to a sometimes irrational world of events that will happen to you and around you.

That’s enough for this one. Well, almost enough. Here’s a tip that could make the difference between you getting good at this response-ability thing or just being frustrated by it. Open your Bible to James 1:5. You know, the verse I cite almost every time I write. Ask God to make you wise for this endeavor. He wants to answer that prayer. He wants to give you greater response-ability. So partner with Him.

From → Marriage, Parenting

One Comment
  1. Macrine Jangu permalink

    Amen…
    this is amazing!
    also please follow me to get amazing reads 🙏

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