When Control Slips Away

How does it feel to be powerless? Maybe it feels like being in an iron lung, reliant upon a machine to breathe for you, not even able to exist on your own strength. Maybe it feels like being paralyzed and unable to move your limbs. Maybe it feels like living in a homeless shelter after having lost everything. Maybe it feels like coming home from war and being haunted by nightmares.

Some of us have felt very powerless at times. All of us have tasted something of the feeling at some point. To feel powerless is to feel like life is not under your own control. I hate that feeling.

If someone were to ask you what one thing (of an intangible nature) was most important to you, what would you answer? Perhaps you would mention love or meaning. Though it would be a difficult choice, I think I might choose control. I can barely function if I don’t feel in control of my life.

And yet we often do not get the luxury of feeling like life is under our control – because, let’s admit, it really isn’t. We can influence a lot of variables, but we can’t change the weather, the economy, other people around us, and countless other things. Life is always reminding me of the limit of my powers. When it intrudes upon my sense of order and the plans that I had, I feel terribly anxious. I know I’m not the only person who experiences this phenomenon. Many people hate losing their sense of control just as much as I do.

Was there a time in your life when you felt like control was less elusive? At one point did things feel more in order, or make more sense? Have your plans slowly been thwarted by outside forces, to the point where you are starting to feel like you could slowly, slowly start going insane? Do you feel even just a little disillusioned?

Where I live, it’s not considered abnormal to have these struggles. There are ways of finding support and things that help with the experience of anxiety attacks and other such phenomena. My medical conditions were a large part of what led to my feelings of having lost control in life, which in turn fed into an enormous amount of anxiety. Since I was already being treated for medical conditions, my doctors talked to me about anxiety at some of my appointments. They showed me that there are indeed medications available for helping with anxiety, especially with severe attacks like I was sometimes experiencing. But medications are not the only routes that can be taken. We can now pursue biofeedback in medical environments for stress relief, and of course referrals are quickly given to every sort of counselor imaginable. But coping doesn’t have to be so formal.

We can learn to slow down, take a few things out of life for a season, and breathe deeply. We can avoid caffeine, take long walks and generally be healthy. But perhaps even more importantly, we can talk to a friend. We can open up our hearts to someone who really knows us and really cares. We can be honest. We can admit we really want control, and that we just can’t have it. Not total control, that is. We can learn how to use the control we do have wisely.

But is this it? After all, this is mostly life skills and lifestyle retraining, and dealing with “symptoms”. This isn’t answering why we can’t have control. It’s not getting to the root of the problem.

Well, the root of the problem is a bit complicated. It turns out we don’t have total control because we are not responsible enough to have it. Try as we might, we mortals could never have pure enough motives. Just think about it: if each of us had the control to do everything we want to do in this life, we would end up thwarting each other’s plans, and the world would most likely end in a bloodbath. There has to be someone in control of all of us, some cosmic power who is wiser than we are and works for the good of all of us. This cosmic power also has to be able to use suffering for good, otherwise our pain ends up meaning nothing. More than that, such a being has to be able to fit every life together and use all of them beautifully, even though some have more privilege on Earth than others.

There is, thankfully such a cosmic being. He is like the great painter Claude Monet, and he uses every life like a stroke of paint. Every stroke is important, and is part of a masterpiece. The pain in our lives works like chemotherapy does in the body of a cancer patient, and refines us. Everything in our lives has meaning. Every life has meaning. The best way through this world for every life is found when it learns how to submit to the painter. And who is this painter? None other than God Himself (see the ‘about’ section of this blog for more on this topic).

The above truths don’t make feeling like we are out of control easy. It’s a learning process that for me at least will not end until I am dead. However, it is life-giving to know that even the moment I feel least in control is being used for good.

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