Lessons Learned From Mom: Control Is An Illusion

How many people do you know who try to control everything? Who have meltdowns when things don’t go according to plan? Who micromanager their lives and the lives of others?

How many meltdowns have you had this week because you couldn’t orchestrate things the way you wanted?

I’ve had a couple.

Yesterday, I mentioned how Mom let me put her calendar away. Relinquished a little control.

Today it was the bathroom scale.

For as long as I can remember, Mom has been obsessed with her weight. The issue was never the size of her clothing, it was how much she weighed. Her second husband was just as obsessed, and I saw him shame her for eating too much or not being active like he was.

I bit my tongue on more than one occasion and sat on my hands (a technique I learned in school to keep from talking, because everyone knows I can’t talk without using my hands…but I digress.)

Mom had to move the bathroom scales to accommodate her new shower bench. She wasn’t happy with what felt like crowding. I asked her if she really needed to keep the scales in the bathroom. She stopped talking, and became pensive. I could tell there was an inner dialog raging inside. I waited.

Then she looked at me and instructed me to take them out of the bathroom. They have disappeared into the bottom of her closet.

Letting go of habits is hard. Especially if they have been life-long. When Mom came home from the hospital last January after a very serious bout with pneumonia, she had lost some weight. She was weighing about 92 pounds. She was ecstatic. It was like she had finally reached her life goal. Over the year she put on eight pounds. Somehow, in her mind, it was too much.

Giving up the scale was huge. For her.

I wish I could find that kind of freedom.

While I was still in high school, Mom wrote in the baby book she kept our milestones in a prediction that impacted my thinking in the most damaging way. She declared that I would weigh 140 pounds when I turned 18. I remember hearing the statement as a negative pronouncement regarding the horrendous direction my weight was trending. I fought against her vision. I fought and I fought and I lost and I lost.

I want to be healthy. I want to feel better in my body. I don’t want to constantly be battling to achieve a number.

But like Mom…I’m not sure I know how to be another way. Maybe control comes more by not trying so hard to control.

Routine

Do you have certain things in your routine that you just have to do or you feel disjointed or incomplete? For some, they have to read the morning paper or watch the early news first thing in the morning. Some can’t get going without their first cup of coffee. Others have a bathroom routine that is scripted down to the minute. The same can be said for how they face the things of work or how they wind down in their day.

Right before my husband and I got married we saw a movie about an ice skater who went blind. It was called “Ice Castles.” The young girl practiced with her partner, over and over, to drill the performance into her body. He constantly reminded her that she could do this. As they skated out on the ice at competition, he squeezed her hand and whispered the word, “Routine.” This made quite an impression on us and when Nelson and I were married he had the word “Routine” engraved on the inside of my wedding band.

Now, there are some who might see that as negative or sarcastic. I mean, really, who wants their relationship to become “routine”? People are always looking for fresh and new. Manufacturers understand that and are always seeking to make their product “new and improved.” Routine typically carries with it connotations of complacency and boredom. I don’t happen to see it that way.

Having a routine helps me feel grounded and safe. I like the predictability and security of knowing what is supposed to come next. Thankfully, though, I’m not completely locked into that. Some people absolutely loose it if you change their routine. In their minds, the whole day is shot if their routine is disrupted. Somewhere along the way I developed the ability to toss my routine and be adaptable and flexible. It’s helped me survive.

I believe that God wants to offer us this balance between predictability and adaptability. We can count on him. The Word tells us that he is the same “yesterday and forever” and that he will “never leave us or forsake us.” Because we know that we learn to trust him in the “no matter whats” of life. When we are hit with an unexpected curveball in our health, finances, career, or relationships that require we adapt, we can because there is a source of stability that will get us through the uncertainty back to what feels “routine.” And it may be, that we learn to create a new “routine”, new patterns and rituals based on the new growth we experience as a result of trust.

There’s an old hymn that reminds us: “We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll. Fastened to the rock that cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” As you move through your day and your daily routine, be thankful for what you can count on and open to the possibilities.

Surrender

We started our study of Conrad Gempf’s book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah in our Sunday school class last Sunday. And as I suspected, we didn’t get very far, very fast. In fact, we only got through half of the introduction. Lest you wonder…this is a good thing. There was much discussion and participation. Our class has grown so much that we have to find a better way to squeeze us in–such a glorious problem!

So while I was studying and preparing for the upcoming class the topic of surrender was mentioned…but the way my mind stuck on it you would have thought that it was the main theme. Rumination at its best.

Surrender. Not a popular word. Somehow it has become the definition of weakness, of defeat. We don’t want to surrender to our enemies, our spouse, our boss, our grandchildren. And yet we daily surrender to our passions, our obsessions, our addictions. Go figure.

For a bit, I want to focus on what surrender means in the spiritual sense…at least for me.

Here’s the problem as I see it: we think surrender means giving away everything and getting nothing. And somehow in that process I get lost…the me that I am, is gone. If I surrender to my spouse I cease to exist and it’s only them. If I surrender to God…then there’s no me. And we can’t fathom not being. That’s why we fight death so fiercely.

Until we begin to understand God, this surrender thing makes him seem like some cosmic terrorist: why surrender? He’s just going to kill us anyway.

Our thinking is really twisted…thanks to the great deceiver and the work he’s been at since the garden. See, he started his number on the first folks, Adam and Eve–and primarily Eve. His job has been to distort God’s purposes and He’s really quite good at it and we’re really quite sucked into it. His opening remarks were to twist the words and purpose of God’s reasoning. “Did God really say that?” “I’m sure that’s not what he meant.” And then she bit and bought the apple.

What does this have to do with surrender? Everything. We think everything is ours and to get a piece of God we have to give it all up. As if to hold God in my hands I have to lay my stuff down. And there in, or in there, lies the problem.

Nothing I have is mine. It may be in my possession, but it doesn’t belong to me. Having trouble with that? I understand. I was dealing with my grandson on the concept just the other day. He was playing with a neighbor boy, who happens to remind me of Eddie Haskill (if you don’t remember Leave it to Beaver, go look it up on youtube). He’s older than my grandson and constantly tries to take advantage of his naivety. Especially when it comes to trading. (This is a boy concept which I don’t get very well.) Eddie-boy tries to grandson to give him something or things and in return gives him junk that he tries to pawn off as really great stuff. Grandson wants to be friends with Eddie-boy so he goes along with it.

This trading isn’t too big a problem until grandson starts to trade off the stuff that we have paid for (aka: of high value to us as it should be to him). That’s when I step in as the enforcer and put the kibosh to the whole thing. The last incident left grandson in tears and confused and me trying to explain. I wanted grandson to know that we provide these things for him so that he will have things to do and play with while he is at our house (daily). He is allowed to play with them and in some sense they are his things, but they don’t belong to him. He is also charged with the care of these things.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is how God sees things, too. He provides it all–but it’s still his. All he asks is that we acknowledge that and take care of it.

I think that was why the Rich Young Ruler (see Mark 10:17-27) had such a hard time when Jesus told him to sell all that he “possessed” and give it to the poor. He didn’t really understand who the true owner, possessor, was. He really bought the lie (of the evil one), and thought he owned it. He thought to give it, to surrender, meant that he would lose it all. As if to think that God really needed his possessions? I don’t need to own all my grandson’s toys. In fact, when he’s grown and gone, so will the toys. It would just be nice if he recognized the provision occasionally, but that might be a lot to expect from a seven year old.

But we’re adults and it seems to be what God is asking of us.

Could this be what Paul was saying to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2) when he describes our reasonable service/sacrifice as one that is living? He says God wants a living sacrifice. That is what is holy and pleasing to him. Too often we think we quit living if we surrender.

(I just had a moment…a thought…I was thinking about Abraham offering Isaac. There seems to be some parallels. Would God have allowed Abraham to kill Isaac? Or was he wanting to see if Abe would give, surrender his son–give back to God what ultimately was his anyway? Going to have to think on this some more.)

If you’re still reading along with me, then you have exceeded blogdom’s suggested word count and I thank you. Let me hasten to close…

Surrender is not to be feared or avoided. In many ways it reminds me of how I define confession: agreeing and owning what God already knows about me. Surrender is recognizing who truly owns everything and receiving it back as a trust–whether it’s my life, my money, my toys…you fill in the blank. I’m not, you’re not, the owner, but the steward.

And here’s a thought: God trusts you with his very best and treasured possessions. How will that impact your living?

The Message in the Silence

This morning my daughter posted this on Facebook: Why is it that your kids don’t seem to hear you unless your yelling at them, but then they give you that pouty face that makes you feel sick for having yelled at them so they’d finally listen?! Being a parent sucks!

I will admit that my first thought was to smile, thinking of all the yelling I did when she was my strong willed always right closed minded child. We raise them to be independent and have opinions. We just don’t realize that they’re going to develop those so early and with such strength.

Reading her post got me thinking about my own childhood. My mother wasn’t a yeller. That’s not to say she couldn’t—I received my share of loud scoldings. My mother had three other weapons in her arsenal that often left me wishing she was a yeller. First, she was the master (perhaps even the inventor) of “the look.” No word needed to be spoken; message received loud and clear: cease or die. What was most amazing to me was when she used it on other kids at stores or other public places and they got the message too!

The second tool that my mother relied on was action. We knew that mom would not hesitate to use whatever was at hand or just her hand to make her point. This resulted in my brother getting konked on the head the telephone receiver when was making too much noise while she was on the phone (phone calls were typically fewer and much more important back in the day). Hair brushes, yardsticks, and those stupid paddle ball paddles—looking back I now see why she was always willing to give into that childish indulgence as we checked out at the store. You think we might have put that together better.

But the most effective tool in my mother’s parental arsenal was silence. Silence typically conveyed one of two messages, both extreme. She was either extremely disappointed or so angry that if she said anything she would have exploded. This final weapon was so powerful that it always got our attention and resulted in our praying for the silence to end.

As I am writing this, I am on the mend from a very weird and pain-filled three weeks. I progressed from swollen feet to extremely swollen feet and ankles and pain while walking to nodules all over my legs and arms and in my joints (elbows, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles toes), to fevers and shakes. I’ve had so many blood tests, I feel like a pin cushion—the very nice woman in the outpatient check-in knows me by name. I had a punch biopsy. Standing was so painful. At times I admit I just melted into tears. And I just couldn’t shake the thought: what if this is as good as it gets? I believe in healing, but I know that God doesn’t remove every infirmity.

Now, I realize that my suffering was probably very light compared to others. But it was mine and for a relatively active and healthy person this was intense and scary. Perhaps the was the worst: not knowing what was going on and not knowing how long it would continue.

Getting quiet with God this morning, thinking about my daughter’s post and my pain, I found myself thinking about the times I cried out to God these past few weeks. I began to feel like Malachai: how long, God? Silence. I wanted to be angry, to decry what seemed so unfair. But I couldn’t. Because somewhere in the silence there was a drawing…a calling…a voice…trust me.

At first I thought my pain was God “screaming” at me, me the errant, disobedient child. Punishing. Then it seemed more like a “smack” of sorts to get my attention. But each of those fell short. All my experiences with the silent messages from my mother were good for one thing for sure: they taught me to listen, listen hard, and listen long—for the answer is always there in the silence. At least it has been for me.

But like I said, I appear to be on the upswing. Maybe that’s why Job didn’t curse God when his wife suggested it. She wasn’t evil, she just ached to watch him suffer, and was suffering herself. Hope dies hard. Even if the pain I was suffering was going to be my friend for the rest of the journey, I would have adapted…somehow. And I know that God would have been with me. That was the kind of answer that Malachi got. God let the prophet know that he wasn’t going to like the answer to his question because God was going to use his enemy to bring about His purpose. It was the same message for Jeremiah (read ALL of Jeremiah 29).

I don’t know how it goes for you, but I tend to struggle with trying to fix and control. Trust doesn’t always come easy, but I usually get there. Just like when I was a child. Just like when I dealt with my own children. Sometimes learning is hard, as my daughter is finding. Parenting, too. Just ask God.

Today!

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” Hebrews 4:7, NIV


I have been a procrastinator my whole life. I imagine if I checked with my mom she would tell me I was even late being born.
I wish I had a dollar for every time she would address my procrastinating with this bit of wisdom: Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today. I remembered this as I read this passage in Hebrews.

Several times in scripture we are reminded that God’s word is today, now, this day. Our strength is being renewed day by day. The Israelites were fed manna daily in the wilderness. Jesus taught his disciples to ask for the daily bread and not worry about tomorrow because it has its own particular problems.


Just as clearly we then learn that Satan’s word is tomorrow. Moses asked when he wanted relief from the plague of frogs to which he surprisingly replied, “tomorrow.” Why wait? God can take care of it now? Makes no sense to me. So whether by procrastination, putting off until later, or worry about what tomorrow holds, Satan’s job seems to be to get us off focus of the present and presence of God in this moment right now.


As a counselor I encouraged families frustrated by negative behavior to consider that all behavior serves a purpose. This is even true of procrastination. Two primary purposes jump quickly to mind. First, we procrastinate or put off doing something in order to maintain control. I’m sure we’ve all seen how a three year old can dig in her heels in defiance. She doesn’t want to do whatever Mom wants. Even at her young age and diminutive stature she fights for some semblance of control. Sometimes it’s cute on a toddler—not so much on an adult.


The other purpose that procrastination serves is fear. I don’t do what I need to do because I’m afraid. Afraid I’ll fail. Afraid I won’t be perfect. Afraid I’ll disappoint. The way the twisted thinking goes is that if I don’t do anything then I can fail or disappoint. The problem with that is we don’t realize how often this disappoints those who are expecting us to do something. Bosses are frustrated when the job doesn’t get done. Teachers have little option but to fail us for not completing the assignment (or science fair project). And if I wait to the last minute and don’t have all I need to complete the task (whether it’s poster board or ingredients for class treats), then I can put the blame outside of myself. ..or at least try to.

While I am quick to assure others of this, I’m a little more reluctant to own it for myself. That doesn’t however make it any less true. I’m working to release my fears and my insane need to control everything. My family will tell you it’s been a series of pain-filled baby steps. It’s just not natural for me to surrender, not initially anyway. I know I will get there, but it’s a process for me. Thankfully God gives the strength to work on it each day, day by day, starting Today!