Control freaks, beware! A “controlling” approach to life is fraught with danger and tears.
We all fall into that mode from time to time, thinking that if we can just “get it right” and force (we’d say “encourage”) others (spouses, children, coworkers) to “get it right” by submitting to the improvement plan we create, we can fashion for ourselves and others a perfectly ordered, smoothly running, incredibly efficient existence. As long as we’re in charge, masters of the situation, all will be well, right?
Life doesn’t work that way, and, ironically, people who have a deep need to be masters end up as slaves continually dealing with fires that they rarely realize they’ve set or stoked themselves by their own sick need. And they are not the only ones who end up wrecked and broken, resentful and resented.
In a fine article in Christianity Today entitled, “Justify Yourself,” David Zahl writes that 500 years after Martin Luther helped the world rediscover the truth of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith and not by law through works, we still need to be reminded—and in very practical ways.
Zahl points to a university task force exploring reasons for a “spate” of suicides on its campus. Seriously contributing to the problem was the pressure many students felt to push for perfection in “every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor.” The result? Serious anxiety and/or depression.
Jesus told us, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). But what if the fingers gripping your throat are tentacles of your own perfectionism? As you choke for air, the neurotic need you refuse to recognize is also throttling your spouse, kids, and coworkers.
It’s a sad symmetry. Failing to feel mercy and grace, or admit we need it, we become unable to extend it. Even if we can’t see the reality, all of our relationships become conditional and sick: “You’ll be okay with me IF . . .” That is poison.
When Luther grappled with Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s words both assailed and freed him: we are truly saved only by grace through faith; law through works will only condemn us. But that’s just religion, right? Wrong!
As Zahl points out, that truth is as practical as hyper-driven students and suicide rates, women who’ll never be thin enough or successful enough, business folks who’ll never get enough work done and get shaky if they ever turn off their cell phone, kids with headaches and tummy aches and no virus but adult-sized stress, spouses whose marriages are more based on performance review than on unconditional love . . . Resentment flourishes. No one ever feels that he/she has done enough. Worse, no one feels that he/she IS enough. “If only I can do, get, achieve . . .” “If only I can get YOU—spouse, child, coworker—to do, get, achieve . . .” then my own life and existence will be justified. But what’s enough? When will I reach it? The answer? Never.
The fruit of a law-based life? Bitterness, resentment, anger. “The sad irony of our lives,” Zahl writes, “is that our desire to be in control almost always ends up controlling us.”
The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to justify ourselves; it’s already been done. We’re completely loved, forgiven, and free. If we know that, let’s pass it on. If we don’t? Well, control freaks, prepare to be controlled.
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Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.