The Cost of Control
SHARON HODDE MILLER
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
For two weeks in the fall of 2018, I became a meteorologist.
Not literally, of course, but emotionally.
In September of that year, Hurricane Florence was forecasted to plow through the state where my husband and I lived. For weeks, we monitored its progress and prepared for the worst. At its most powerful, Florence was a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, and our local weatherman warned that we might suffer a direct hit.
This forecast sent me into a tailspin for two reasons.
The first is obvious: Hurricanes are scary! I had lived through only one hurricane in my life, so I was not exactly a seasoned veteran. I wondered if we should pack up the kids and go stay with my parents, but there was another complicating factor that was also contributing to my stress.
My husband and I were weeks away from launching our church. We were planning to hold a practice service on the very weekend Florence was scheduled to hit, and we weren’t quite sure what to do.
As my imagination ran wild with all the worst-case scenarios, I did the only thing that gave me some sense of predictability. I tracked that hurricane’s every move. I downloaded our local news channel’s weather app; I clicked “Yes, I DO want notifications!” and I became intimately acquainted with the Weather Channel’s website. I followed each new development, in real time, 24/7.
And then, as the date of our church’s practice service neared, something happened that I didn’t expect. The hurricane’s path shifted. On a dime, weather experts changed their predictions and speculated it would skirt our area entirely.
In the end, that hurricane never did hit us. In fact, we experienced only an ordinary amount of rain, so when I look back on how I responded to the hurricane, the source of my anxiety is clear: My stress was the fallout of taking my control issues to the internet instead of to God as 1 Peter 5:7 instructs: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
This is the great temptation of our age. Thanks to technological advances like the internet, smartphones, satellites, modern medicine, air travel and more, we have access to more knowledge, more choices and more certainty than any generation before us — which is, by and large, an enormous gift. However, underneath all of these daily habits of checking our phones and combing the internet, our technology is nurturing in us a belief in an attractive lie: the illusion of control.
The illusion of control is convincing because we mistakenly think knowledge is the same thing as influence. But as a friend once told me, “Knowing how the weather works does not mean we can control it.” When we forget this distinction and then turn to the illusion of control to help us, it cannot provide us the peace we crave.
In fact, it will only provide the opposite.
In the church that my husband and I lead, some of the greatest anxiety I have experienced has resulted from my naive belief that I could make people think or act a certain way. I was convinced that if I just explained something enough, I could walk people back from the self-destructive decisions they were making. In short, I thought I could control them, and this illusion of control has been the source of many sleepless nights and strained relationships over the years.
Control is a false gospel of sorts, promising us a security that only Jesus can provide. But while the promise of control is quite literally a devil’s deal — dating all the way back to the garden of Eden — the good news is this:
We don’t have to settle for the enemy’s offers of power or peace because we can have the real thing in Jesus.
Jesus, this world feels out of control. Very often, I feel out of control. I want to fix things or know what is going to happen, and deep down, I do not believe I can have peace any other way. Open my eyes to the illusion of this thinking, and help me to recognize the true and greater peace available to me in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.