In this series, I’m sharing some of the most common Control Girl questions I’ve been asked–either while speaking at retreats, responding to blog comments, or by individuals in the small groups I’ve visited. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’d love to share what God continues to teach me about control. If you have a question you’d like answered, feel free to submit it in the comment form below!
Also, you can sign up to receive this Control Girl Q & A series by email here.
Is ‘Surrender’ a Potentially Dangerous Message?
Let me start by sharing a moment from a few weeks ago. Ken had just cleaned up the kitchen and I said, “You missed some dishes on the table.” He replied, “Yeah, but that’s nothing new. There are always dishes on the table.”
I stopped short and tears unexpectedly sprang to my eyes. I looked at him and said, “OK, I just need to know. Are you saying I don’t do a good job keeping the house picked up?” My voice cracked and a tear escaped.
He looked surprised, then with sweet compassion said, “Oh, Honey… no! I was just teasing. You do a great job with the house!” He pulled me in close and assured me that he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings.
Now, this is a very strange and unusual interchange for us. I’m not quick to cry and I don’t get my feelings hurt often. But during this particular week, someone had hurt me deeply, and I had spent a lot of time crying. Even small, insignificant things–like my husband’s comment about the dishes–quickly caused me to spiral into hurt and self doubt.
For me, this was a bad week with extreme hurt. For some women, it’s a way of life. They have been so deeply wounded for such a long period of time, and by such significant people in their lives, that they are more tender than others. They are quick to question and doubt themselves. They’re also quick to lash back and become defensive. It’s because they’re hurting. They need someone to pull them in close and douse their pain with compassion.
Ultimately, they need that “someone” to be God.
Control Girl for the Hurting
When I wrote Control Girl, I was very concerned for the hurting women who would one day be turning its pages. I wrestled with what these woman would find in the Bible stories I was cracking wide open. I worried about their view of God.
One of the most difficult stories to reconcile with my understanding of God was Hagar’s story in Genesis 16:6-16. In short, when Hagar ran away from what I think is safe to call an abusive situation, God sent her back. Here’s what I wrote about this on page 88 of Control Girl:
Esther read Control Girl
In her loneliest moment of hopelessness, our Egyptian Cinderella was visited by God himself. But the scene doesn’t go as I’d expect. I want God to come on the scene like a fairy God-the-Father. I want him to wave a wand, dry up her tears, and fix all of her problems. That’s what God does, right? Not exactly.
This time, he does the opposite. He asks Hagar to go back to the place form which she had just escaped, saying, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” (Gen. 16:9)
I feel a bit disoriented when I hear these words coming from God’s mouth. He knows what Hagar will be returning to—the slavery, mistreatment, polygamy, and surrogacy! If I’m honest, it makes me wonder what kind of God he is to ask this of her. Going back to Sarah the Horrible? Returning to her second-wife-slave status?
What Kind of God?
I truly wrestled with this section of Scripture (among others). I noticed that many other authors who have written on Hagar have conveniently sidestepped this part of the story in which God instructs her to return to her difficulties. It’s not the sort of story that sells books. So why include it? Why take the risk?
Even more importantly, why would God take the risk? Since the Bible is a book designed to display God’s character that we might trust Him, how is Hagar’s story (and others like it) helpful? Couldn’t an emotionally fragile woman read this Bible story and misunderstand who God is? What if she was hurting too much to hear the true intent of God’s (or my) words?
As I wrote Control Girl, here’s the conclusion I came to.
It would be wrong to apply Hagar’s story by saying that God always directs women to stay in difficult marriages or relationships. He doesn’t! Especially not in extreme, abusive, situations.It would be wrong to say that God always directs women to stay in difficult marriages. But wouldn't it also be wrong to say He never does? Click To Tweet
But on the other hand, it would also be wrong to say that God never asks a woman to stay in a difficult marriage or situation. He sometimes does. I give you Hagar.
Here’s the reality. There are women who do not see their controlling behavior as sin. They label their (normal, sinful) husbands as abusive narcissists and conclude that their (normal, sinful) marriages are unsalvageable. They have no idea that their controlling behavior has strongly contributed to their strained relationships. They have a skewed perspective on the reality they’re living in. (By the way, if you have a woman like this in your life, here’s a blog series just for you.)
But here’s the other reality. There are women who have been brainwashed by controlling narcissists. They’ve endured unthinkable abuse—both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And they also have a skewed perspective on the reality they’re living in.
And both types of women would be reading my message about surrendering control.
With this in mind, I asked for lots of help. First from the Lord, but I also reached out to pastors and theologians, along with several friends who have endured abuse, asking each for input and critique. Then again, with my publisher’s editorial team, we thought through how to say what we wanted to say—and how to not say what we didn’t want to. And after much prayer and deliberation, I turned in my final manuscript.
But ultimately, I had to turn this manuscript over to God. Only he could work in each woman’s heart as she held this Bible study in her hands. I had to put my hope in Him to give clarity and guard against misunderstanding.
And amazingly, God has done just that! Sure, there are people who have challenged the message of Control Girl, or given it fewer “stars” on Amazon. But by God’s grace, the true message of the book has shown through. Women, facing difficult sin-drenched situations in life, have looked into the messy lives of Bible women. In those pages, they’ve seen a God who has collected every one of their tears (Psalm 56:8), and who pulls them in close to give them the confidence and assurance they need.
Women who are in vastly different circumstances, and who struggle in completely opposite ways have bravely engaged the Control Girl message and asked themselves questions like:
- Is there anything I need to repent of?
- Is my heart resistant toward the Lord?
- Is there anything I’m holding back or refusing to acknowledge?
- What is God asking me to sweetly surrender today?
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