As I watch my parents getting older, I see them struggling to accept the changes that inevitably come. There is no doubt the ailments and physical challenges can be tough to deal with, but I think the worst of it all, is really the loss of control. Whereas once they could go anywhere and do anything....they're limited now. Some of it is psychological, limits they put on themselves such as the realization that your body is kind of doing its own thing now and so public settings suddenly have a lot more variables. But the bulk of it is the undeniable, no getting around it, reality that you literally can't do some things anymore. If you can't drive, you are suddenly dependent on others to get to the grocery store or the pharmacy or a restaurant. As you lose strength and dexterity, you can't reach the dish on the top shelf of the cabinet or move the chair to clean up the spill...or even get down to the spill to clean it up. Even the most basic things like getting to the bathroom in your own home can become a significant challenge. And so I see this, and I empathize, and I think how awful that must be. But then I realize...
The idea that we are in control is a lie. At least the idea that we are as in control as we think we are. We are like children whose parent lets them hold the steering wheel or drive the boat or take the controls of the airplane. At that moment, we literally are steering or flying. And we very quickly believe that we are keeping the car safely on the road or we are keeping the boat afloat...or the plane in the air. But it's obvious to all of us we picture that scenario...these children are not really in control. One false move from another car on the road, or one rogue wave, or one mechanical failure in the engine, and suddenly whatever control we had is ripped away.
Think about it. Don't we all walk around feeling/believing we can direct our own path? But really, how much control do we really have? We can't prevent that natural disaster from tearing apart our lives. We can't prevent cancer or some other disease from ravaging our body. We can't prevent evil...and those possessed by such evil...from hurting ourselves or our loved ones. Heck, we can't even guarantee our next breath. If we could, many of us would choose to go on breathing forever.
Now don't get me wrong. This isn't some manifesto bent on denying free will. When that child is holding the steering will, they are driving. One quick turn of that wheel would have real consequences. And we can certainly make choices that impact our lives for better or worse....and the lives of others. We are responsible for our actions. What we say and do does have consequences. But I think there is wisdom...and valuable humility...in coming to grips with the fact that we are not really in control...or the control we do have is very limited. We are fragile creatures and we are dependent on a host of things over which we have zero control. And that is OK.
I think so much of our angst...our frustration...our anger and bitterness...is rooted in the lie that we have control. We should be able to have what we want, to make this or that happen, to realize this or that experience in our lives. We just have to work harder, or get to know the right people, or earn enough money, or whatever. We can do it. Or so we believe. And obviously our experience shows us...people do accomplish things. But what we fail to recognize when we see someone receiving an award or sitting on their yacht or accomplish a goal...is that there were a million other things that had to happen...that had to line up...for that person to be in that position. And of that million, 999,999 were out of their control...and probably not even things they were conscious of...or could have been conscious of even if they tried.
So where does this leave us? For me, there is actually comfort in this. I know how easily my own life can suddenly seem overwhelming. So many things to do and seemingly so little time to do them. And these are just the things that I am aware of...that I have some modicum of control over. But I can appreciate there are thousands of things that I don't even think about that are impacting my life and the lives of those who I love. I know there are people who don't believe there is a God. People who think this all just kind of happened...this life we live. But to be honest, if I believed that life was just a fortunate accident or cosmic event, I would be scared as hell or very likely would have a mental breakdown. Despite the laws of the universe, that would still feel too chaotic. No, I believe we are made for order, we desire order. We are ok not being in control, so long as we know there is someone in control. And I don't mean that in some Orwellian or Huxleyan sense. I think we all have the knowledge that we are creatures...and of our Creator...written in us. And that knowledge is there in part to remind us that we are not in control and maybe even more importantly that we don't need to be.
I believe life is much better recognizing that we are like that child, sitting on our Father's lap, and He is giving us the steering wheel. He let's us decide where to go. He allows us to direct our lives. And He will completely take His hands off the steering wheel if we want. And as we grow He will even let us work the gas pedal. But He is also willing to help steer, to offer directions, to suggest the best way to go and some great places to see. Yet He does allow us to slip into the belief that we are completely in control. As we get more and more distracted by the thrill of driving, He continues to keep things out of our path, ensures we have enough gas to keep going, and keeps the car running mechanically, all behind the scenes...never forcing us to recognize that we are really only still going because He enables us to do so. But it is precisely because we allow ourselves to believe we are in control, that life can get so scary. No matter how much God allows us to do without seeing Him and no matter how well we 'steer' our lives, the fact is that we are regularly confronted with events that we would not have chosen. And at those moments, we are forced to recognize once again...we are not in control. But the fact that we are not in control does not mean that we are out of control. For just as there are constant reminders that we are subject to things over which we have no control, there are constant signs that there is a plan. Life is not haphazard or chaotic. There is purpose. Maybe the greatest thing over which we do have control, is our willingness to accept the reality, that we are not in control...and to thank God that we are not.
Thank you, Father, for life...for allowing me to make choices...for allowing me to decide the person I am becoming. But thank You also, for saving me from myself, for providing me the opportunities to remember that I am a creature who is loved by his Creator....and that while life is so much bigger than me...it is not bigger than You.