If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to Take the Control Girl Quiz! Each Monday, I’ll be unpacking one of the quiz’s twelve questions. Also, on Thursdays, I’ll be telling your stories in a “Control Girl to Jesus Girl” series.
Do friends or family members send subtle hints? Do others give tactful clues that they’d like you to back off? Do they ever roll their eyes and say, “I got it, the first six times, Mom!” or “I can handle it,”? If we cornered the people who love you most, would they privately admit that you are pushy or overbearing?
Some years ago, we pulled into the driveway of the condo that we were renting for a vacation, but before we got out, my husband said he wanted a word with me. He told the kids to stay in the van, and walked with me around the corner, where he said, “Shannon, you’ve got to stop. You are going to ruin this whole vacation!”
I was furious. Ruin it? I was the only reason we were going to have a vacation at all! I had spent the entire morning, trying to get us stocked, loaded, and headed in the right direction. But my husband saw it differently. He said, “You’re completely on edge! You’re barking orders and snapping at the kids and obsessed over the stupidest things. You’re ruining it!”
It was true that I had been completely stressed out. But it all had to be done! I was getting all of the food packed so that we didn’t have to waste half the afternoon looking for a grocery store because we forgot the peanut butter. It wasn’t my fault that someone had eaten the food I was planning to bring! And I was checking everyone’s feet for shoes and everyone’s suitcases for swimsuits, because I didn’t want anyone to miss out on hiking or swimming. It wasn’t my fault that someone had lost their other tennis shoe! And I was obsessed about printing off the details for getting the key (this was before we had smartphones) because I wanted us to be able to get in when we arrived. It wasn’t my fault that the printer was broken!!
My husband was acusing me of ruining our vacation? Maybe if he had helped a little more, I could have had a vacation, TOO!!
I’m sure there was steam coming out of my ears as I told him exactly how I felt about all of this. But he just calmly stood there and said, “Seriously. You need to stop. Stop. It.”
“What am I doing wrong?” I asked angrily. “What crime have I committed?”
He said, “Shannon, you are very intimidating when you get like this. We all feel the stress. No one wants to tell you, but I have to! You’re ruining it. You are destroying our family and you’re going to live to regret it.”
His words were shocking, in one sense. I was intimidating? I was creating stress? I was destroying our family?
I was the one trying to make this vacation–and this family–turn out right!
But though I wouldn’t admit it at first, I knew that he was telling the truth. When we got inside the condo, I went into the bathroom, and talked into the mirror with the same expression I had just used when I demanded that the kids pick up the candy wrappers in the van. It was hideous. What an evil-looking expression. No wonder my family was stressed out.
And how ridiculous to get this angry over some wrappers, some peanut butter, a printer, and a missing shoe.
Finding Out I’m a Control Girl
For me, learning that I was a Control Girl was a gradual process. It took me a long time to look my problem in the eye and see it for what it is. But now I see it much more clearly. Trying to grasp at control never brings peace; only turmoil and conflict. The truth is, I can’t control everything. And when I try, I get really ugly.
Thankfully, God gave me a husband who has been willing to say, “No one wants to tell you, but I have to!” He has repeatedly told me over the years to stop it, cut it out, quit ruining things. Interestingly, I don’t remember him ever using the word “control”. Yet control was at the root of all of our strife.
Do you have strife in your relationships? Is there tension? Do other people send you subtle hints? Do they back away or shake their heads? Is there anyone who finds you exasperating?
If so, I have an assignment for you.
I know this is the last thing you want to do, but take some time to contemplate the critical things that people in your life–especially the people who know and love you most–have said about you. Consider their complaints; their frustrations. Now, (maybe for the first time) acknowledge that they might be right. Give their criticisms your full attention. For the moment, suspend your arguments, defenses, and rebuttals and listen carefully to their side of the argument. Maybe you’ll even want write down their main messages to you.
I know that they haven’t gotten everything right. People rarely do. But perhaps there is something you need to see about yourself, which you have been blind to.
Next, take these criticisms and complaints and compare them to these words from the Bible. Look for any parallels between what your criticizer has said and what God says:
“Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.” (I Cor. 13:4-8)
Did you find any parallels? For me, it’s the same, every time. If I consider my husband’s (or someone else’s) frustration with me, almost without exception, God validates their complaint.
Confessing the Sin of Control
So what then? What can we do?
In a word: Repent! Oh, the sweet relief of agreeing with God and other people about my sin. This is the pathway to change! There is no other way. Unless I own my sin, I will not be free of it. “Confess your sins one to another that you may healed,” says James 5:16.
Confessing my sin of craving control over other people and outcomes, or admitting that I was selfishly insisting on my own way is counterintuitive, especially to a Control Girl. To say that I’ve been wrong gives someone else control. They can then say, “Aha! I’m right! You’re wrong! It is just as I’ve said!” Yes, there is always the chance the other person might do that. But sometimes they don’t.
I’ve found that when I confess my sin softly and ask for forgiveness, often the other person responds in softness also. This sort of interchange can be life-giving to the relationship. I can’t be promised this outcome, of course. But here’s the good news. If, after I confess my sin of control, the other person mocks me or piles on more judgement, I have even more opportunity to surrender control to God! It’s not easy, but it’s life-changing.
Surrender over time is what turns us from Control Girls to Jesus Girls. And I know of no better way to begin the surrender process than with confession. Confession and surrender are interwtined. You can’t have one without the other.
What do you think? Are you willing to try? Will you open yourself up and listen to others’ complaints about you? They might not come right out and say that you are pushy, overbearing, or controlling, but I’m sure they’ve found a way to file their complaints. Will you consider these criticisms from God’s perspective? Will you admit when you’ve been wrong? If so, you won’t be a Control Girl for long. You’ll be on the path to Jesus Girl.
Take the Quiz to find out! Then come check your answers with the “Control Girl Quiz Series”. This series is meant to get you thinking about your own possible struggles with control. As a follow up, I hope you’ll consider my new book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible.
Control Girl to Jesus Girl
Have you checked out the inspiring, real life stories in the “Control Girl to Jesus Girl” series? Come learn from other women who are on the path from Control Girl to Jesus Girl. Learn from their mistakes and take hope for the future.