“I need help on how to handle my mother-in-law,” a young woman named Clara confided. “She’s the Control Girl in our family.”
I was the guest speaker at Clara’s church, and had just finished talking about the burden of control, and how it devastates relationships. Clara had identified deeply, but not because of her own struggle; it was her mother-in-law she was thinking of.
As Clara rehearsed the ways her mother-in-law had invaded her life, I could almost see her blood pressure rising. Her voice became angry and terse. She sounded entitled and demanding. Clara claimed that she was learning to stand up for herself and take back control, and I had no doubt that this was true. But here’s what I wasn’t sure of.
Did this young woman realize that little by little, as she gave vent to her own desire for control, she was becoming just like the woman she despised? That she also was becoming a Control Girl?
Failing to See
My conversation with Clara was like having a conversation with myself, ten years prior. Like Clara, I was intensely bothered by other controlling people in my life, including my own mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law and I didn’t have outright arguments, but there was a tension between us that unraveled me like none other. We had such different ideas of how things were supposed to go! For instance, I was raised to always help out in the kitchen. But when I tried to help, my mother-in-law wouldn’t have it. She insisted on doing everything herself, and then when we finally sat down to the feast she’d prepared, she would sulk or make begrudging comments. This really got under my skin.
Once, I suggested going out to eat so she wouldn’t have to cook. I was trying to give her a break, but that’s not how she interpreted it. In the restaurant, she made an angry remark about the food at home that was going to waste. I couldn’t win.
Over the years, my frustration over the kitchen prep situation and dozens like it, grew. Outwardly, I was gracious and kind, but inwardly (or sometimes in a closet) I was erupting with anger and anxiety. I was so sure that she was the problem! And somehow, I thought that it was up to me to make everything turn out right. Yet my perfectionistic ideals and white-knuckled passion to set things straight were leading me into bondage. I was the one miserable.
Lack of Control
Sometimes God brings people or situations into our lives that we can’t control to expose our own controlling hearts. I couldn’t control my mother-in-law. I couldn’t make her appreciate me the way I wanted. (Ironically, she was probably saying the same thing about me.)
I see now that God was leveraging my frustration and pain to draw out my own control issues. I desperately wanted God to change her, but he wanted to change me. All along, he was saying, “Now will you trust me? Now will you lay down your burden of control?”
I was able to go to my mother-in-law’s funeral with no regrets, but only after years of battling it out on my knees with hot tears dripping onto my Bible. In hindsight, I’m so thankful God didn’t let me continue with my façade—convinced that I not only could, but should take control and set things straight.
I am not in control; God is. He invites me to live accordingly. When I choose to surrender to him, he gives me peace, security and joy—gifts that control might promise to deliver, but never does.
Invited to Trust
In my new Bible study, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, I studied seven other Control Girls in the Bible who, like me, were confronted with people or situations they couldn’t control.
Sarah couldn’t make her body conceive a baby. Hagar couldn’t keep her child alive. Rebekah couldn’t force her husband to listen to God. And Leah couldn’t win her husband’s love. In each instance, a Control Girl was all tied in knots over something she couldn’t control. And in each instance, God was exposing her lack of control, inviting her to trust him.
This is what God does for us, too. He invites us to trust, not control.
We can be so blinded to our own control issues—especially when we’re all hot and bothered by someone else’s sin. Think of Clara. She couldn’t see it yet, but Clara and her mother-in-law were lunging for the exact same thing: control. And while the enemy would love to use Clara’s mother-in-law to reproduce the same controlling heart in Clara without her even noticing, God desires the opposite.
Nothing gives more rise to our control issues than the situation or person we can’t control; especially that other Control Girl. Yet these are the ones God uses to lift our eyes to him! When we are finally forced to recognize that we have no control, he says, “Now will you trust me? Now will lay down your burden of control, and surrender even this to me?”
Friend, is there some other Control Girl whose antics are causing you to fret, stew, or seethe? Does she produce anxiety or hostility in you? If so, perhaps God is using her to reveal your own heart. Perhaps he has given you this person you can’t change as an impetus for change in you.
God wants to free you from all of the havoc, stress and heartache that this other Control Girl is creating… but probably not in the way that you think. For freedom is not found in gaining control of another Control Girl. Freedom is found in not becoming just like her.
5 Surrender Steps to Freedom
What other Control Girl is making you crazy? Your daughter-in-law? Your boss? Your mom? Your friend? What will you do about her in 2018? Will you let her sin further propagate the same sin in you? Or will you invite God to use this difficult woman to transform you, as you surrender even her, to him?
Surrender of this type involves gritty struggle. But giving God control rather than snatching it up for yourself is what frees you. When you practice saying, as Jesus did, “Not my will but yours be done,” you gradually become more like him.
During this series, I’ll be offering five surrender steps to freedom. These are ways to surrender that other Control Girl to God. My list won’t be exhaustive but I’ll provide tangible steps in the right direction. You can look for these posts on Thursdays, or you can sign up to have them delivered by email.
Here’s a sneak peek at these 5 surrender steps to freedom:
- Let God write the end of the story.
- Make a surrender strategy.
- Stop caving in.
- Ask good questions.
- Kneel on level ground.
Each of these responses is so essential in finding freedom from control. Will you be able to get control over that other Control Girl? No, probably not. But you can take steps to not become her. You can find freedom, rest, and security—not by lunging for control, but by surrendering to God.
If you’re looking for extra support, here are some options:
- Read the book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible!
- Gather some friends for a Control Girl Bible study. If you’re interested in leading a group, we have everything you need here.
- Download the meditation cards which seem most applicable, or buy the coloring book.
- Listen to the Control Girl playlist.
- Don’t forget to sign up here, to have this series delivered to your inbox!