Years ago, we had a dog who was very territorial about food. She would growl if kids even came in the kitchen when she was eating – something we reprimanded her about, all the time. But we didn’t make much progress, really.
Until one day, when she was 7 years old, a kid came into the kitchen and instead of growling, she picked up her bowl in her teeth and dragged it into the dining room where she could eat it in peace.
I always remember her example when I feel like I’m just figuring out something that’s obvious: at least it didn’t take me seven years! (Or, 49, if I’m using dog years…)
Anyway, here’s my new insight. Being a “Control Enthusiast” is just like being a Worrier.
I’m not a worrier. I know lots of people who struggle with anxiety, and I am sympathetic but I’m not very good at worrying. Even in circumstances that call for worrying, I can’t keep it up for long. I’m not one who stays awake wondering “what ifs.”
But I’ve realized that DOESN’T mean I don’t have anxiety, or that I don’t try to manage my anxiety with less than stellar (or godly) methods.
It’s just that my methods are CONTROL.
I want to know what’s coming. I want to know the weather, and what we are going to wear. I want to know where we plan to eat, and where we are sleeping. I want to have thought through how much cash we will need and when I will get it. I make spreadsheets and to-do lists and I RESEARCH.
I’m no fun to take on your serendipitous adventure. But if you’re not great at planning ahead, you want to vacation with me – I’ve got it all taken care of and I can’t help it.
Now, some of this comes from raising four kids. You have to be ready for anything when four kids under eight are your daily companions! And you do develop the ability to scan the situation for things you don’t want to have happen, and to make changes before they do. You just have to.
But a lot of it comes from managing anxiety. I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to think on my feet, because I’m not good at that. Surprises unnerve me and I’m not really very good at “being present” where I am, because I am busy planning for the next thing.
It’s not that this is always a bad thing, but it is the wrong thing when it has me in its control.
And that’s what hit me one morning looking out at a river, and newly green trees, with different kinds of birds flying and diving and calling out. It was pretty. It was peaceful. I loved it.
But I couldn’t keep my mind on it.
I was planning for what was to come in my real life, like, tomorrow; I was thinking of plans for months from now, and wondering what kinds of plans I might have to make for YEARS from now.
I was even thinking about other peoples’ lives and what kind of planning they might need to be doing.
I was trying to meditate, to contemplate, to enjoy what was before me, but my mind wouldn’t stop. And I realized that it is, indeed, just the same as worrying. And it has the same roots. It is rooted in fear about things I’d rather not experience, or experience again. It’s warding off the what-ifs.
You can’t worry away bad things from happening. You can sometimes plan away bad things from happening, but not always! And sometimes you miss really good things while you are busy erecting walls around your life to keep the bad stuff out. I know that. But I can’t stop it!
I can’t change that by shaming myself for it. I can’t stop by regularly reminding myself. But you know what “worked” for me that morning?
I stopped planning when I started verbally thanking God for everything I saw. Really, everything The new leaves. The ripples on the water. The way the bridge stood there and the design that went into every abutment. The fish that jumped and that little bird right there. The feel of sunshine on my skin. Every little and big thing. And while I was doing that, I was not planning, or worrying, or erecting walls. I was leaning on my Father from whom all good things come.
And it changed the way I saw the day, at least for a while.
Perhaps that is another thing that worship does, and why we need worship together with Sabbath time. Worship reorients how we see things…and it can also stop the running monologue in our heads, whatever monologue that happens to be. Thanks be to God!