How do we turn over the control of our lives to God as Jesus did, and as Jesus invites us to do? It’s not easy. I sometimes liken it to what trapeze artists do when they have to release their grasp on one bar in order to be caught by a partner swinging from another bar. There is a moment between the release and catch in which they have nothing to hold on to. But they’ll never cross from one side to the other if they don’t first let go of the bar.
The decision to turn control of our lives over to God — to release our hold on the illusion of control — feels a lot like being suspended in midair. We know we want to get to the other side where life is better, but we have to let go of the first bar in order to reach out for the next one. When we’re stuck in a powerless place, we don’t mind change — in fact, we actually long for it. But it’s that freefall transition between letting go and being caught that frightens us. And yet, having taken that flying leap myself, I can say that it is possible — and it is definitely worth the risk.
Even if you don’t feel ready to fully let go just yet, there are some steps you can take to keep moving away from fear and toward faith.
Control What You Can Control
I admit it’s a little awkward to start here—to say that the first step in turning over control is to control what you can control — but it is important. God wants us to become vulnerable not to our circumstances but to him. We do that when we admit that our lives are unmanageable. Yet, the truth is that not every area of our lives is unmanageable. There are many things God has given us the capacity and responsibility to manage. We need to make a distinction between the things that are in our control and the things that are not. The need to make this distinction is at the heart of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
The things I cannot change or control need to be turned over to God. The things God has empowered me to change are the things for which I must take responsibility.
Sometimes our life is out of control because we are out of control. If we want to move beyond powerlessness, we must first identify and avoid stirring up avoidable storms. For years, I had a picture in my office of a man with his head bowed and his hands clasped, praying, “Dear Lord, help me meet this self-imposed and totally unnecessary challenge.” In other words, we often introduce difficulties into our lives by the choices we make or the things we choose to ignore. In fact, I’ve come to believe that we can avoid upward of 80 percent of the storms in our lives if we just exercise our legitimate control of some basics.
Here’s a simple example of what it looks like to exercise this kind of self-control over the basics.
When I went to see my doctor for an extensive checkup he didn’t start by writing a prescription for blood pressure medication. Instead, he asked me several questions about my general health and lifestyle, one of which was whether or not I consumed caffeinated drinks. The answer was most definitely yes — a fully loaded, bold Starbucks brew multiple times a day. “Why don’t you lay off the caffeine for a while and see what that does,” he suggested. So, I did, and my blood pressure immediately went back to normal. I have been off caffeine for over six years now and haven’t had a problem with my blood pressure since. All it took was a little — okay, a lot — of self-control.
When I went to that same doctor a few years later to help me overcome my depression, he started out not by focusing on my depression itself but by working through a checklist of healthy disciplines in my life. He wanted to rule out the possibility that the issue was self-induced, just as it had been with my high blood pressure. Keep in mind that at this point I was clinically depressed. Even though I didn’t yet have that as an official diagnosis, I knew my situation was serious. So, I could have decided to roll my eyes in frustration or even to take offense that the doctor wasn’t taking my situation seriously. But I knew he actually was taking my situation seriously by first assessing the basics of a healthy lifestyle, all of which were within my control.
To be clear, I understand that whatever it is that has you feeling powerless is likely complex and potentially serious. I don’t mean to diminish that at all. And yet, I wouldn’t be serving you well if I didn’t at least ask you to take a step back and consider where you’re at when it comes to some of the basics — those things that are likely within your control and provide the foundation for a healthy and empowered life. For example:
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Eating healthy
- Practicing good personal hygiene
- Having strong, healthy relationships
- Nurturing your spiritual life
- Getting an education
- Going to work
- Managing your money wisely
- Avoiding unhealthy relationships
- Avoiding drugs and illegal substances
Not surprisingly, people who practice these things consistently have less drama and trauma in their life.
Surrendering control won’t change your life overnight. At least it didn’t for me. But over time, I began to feel a shift in my soul. Buds of hope appeared on the branches of my life. I started to envision a day when people no longer asked me, “Why are you so afraid?” — which many people did—but asked instead, “How can you be so calm in the middle of this storm?”