I’m Gonna Let It Go
“...yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control
It begins with your family, and soon it comes ‘round to your soul…”
--Leonard Cohen, Sisters Of Mercy
Of all the addictions out there, the compulsive desire for control might be the worst of them. The more obvious addictions of alcoholism, drugs, and sex can be devastating, but the ways they are devastating are obvious and therefore effective for warning people away from them.
Besides, it seems to me that it’s the God shaped hole inside of us that we’re trying to fill with those compulsions (or as Bruce Marshall wrote, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God”), and because of that I think they so often lead us to the end of ourselves and beyond into the transformational mercy of God.
but the obsessive desire for control, on the other hand, seems to be such a direct rejection of God that it’s hard to see anything redemptive about it. It seems to be less about seeking after God than an attempt to be rid of God and to be god.
Even though I understand this, I still catch myself getting tangled up in my own desire for control--usually in ways I least expect. It turns out that I’m a bit of a control freak! Who knew? And the scary thing is that I can be controlling and manipulative without even realizing that I’m doing it.
Our sin is so good at hiding from us, usually finding its best hiding places behind our virtues. Maybe we believe we are being loving, or responsible, or even kind, but underneath it is a grab for control. (I remember when my mentor told me that I was “over-using kindness.” I was startled to discover the ways I used kindness to manage the people around me.)
Though I can’t always see myself doing it in the moment, I can see the symptoms clearly: anxiety, anger, vigilance, stress, self-preservation, depression… So when these start popping up in my life, it’s clear that I’m not as surrendered as I’d like to think I am. Am I anxious over my children? Stressed about finances? Defensive in my conversations? Self-preserving when I could be generous? If I find myself being these things it could mean that I haven’t completely put those parts of my life in God’s hands.
If you can relate, then you also know that symptoms like these cause a lot of trouble and heartbreak in our lives.
But they can also prompt us to pull over and check what’s going on under the hood of our heart. Our anxiety, anger, vigilance, stress, etc. are like “check engine” warning lights that provide us with an opportunity to get tuned up. They invite us to practice being “anxious about nothing” and help us learn to bring our hearts before God--being curious with him about what’s at the root of our mistrust, believing that he’s pleased with our imperfect efforts of surrender.
We might pray something like, “I want to be surrendered… but it’s clear that I don’t trust you… can you help me see why I’m struggling with that?” More often than not, there is some wound or disappointment hiding behind our addiction to control. Uncovering it is the beginning of healing--allowing God into the painful parts of our story that tempt us to control instead of trust.
These are the first steps toward a life of letting go of our desire for control and letting the “peace of Christ rule our heart” instead (Col 3:15)--not as an arrival at a final place of perfect surrender, but as the recognition that trust is an ongoing process and a regular spiritual practice of surrendering → discovering that we’ve taken control again → being prayerfully curious with God about why → letting God into our fears and disappointment → surrendering again with new resolve → rinse, repeat → all the while trusting that God loves us through each part of it.