Were You A Christmas Control Girl?

With Christmas just behinds us, perhaps it’s a good time to consider whether we behaved like a Control Girl this year.

For me, Christmas often brings out the worst.

Every year, when I flip the calendar to December, I get caught up in making Christmas turn out “right.” It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but knowing this only causes me to have heightened expectations about how everything should look and taste and be. Rather than visions of sugar plums, I have Pinterest pictures dancing in my head driving me to new ideals for decorating, gift-wrapping, and treat-making.

Without meaning to, I evolve into a “Christmas Control Girl” who makes my family think it’s anything but the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Controlling Christmas

There is such irony in this, especially when I consider the first Christmas. For Mary, nothing was turning out “right”—at least not humanly speaking. But then Mary was human! She was a normal teenage girl with plans for her future and dreams of how everything should go. And just like the rest of us, Mary could have been a Control Girl.

In my upcoming book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women of the Bible, I investigated what God’s Word has to say about the struggle women often have with control. As I studied the stories of seven women in the Bible—which is ultimately a story about God—I was surprised to note the way these women were making the story all about them!

Sarah wanted a baby. Hagar wanted freedom. Rebekah wanted to control the future. Rachel and Leah wanted to outdo each other. And Miriam wanted to be honored. In each instance, a woman was contending for her own purposes rather than surrendering her story and her family to God’s greater, overarching purposes.

Mary could have been like the rest of these Bible women. She could have clung to her own small-minded ideals and plans for her family and her future. She could have tried to control even the Christmas story.

Just think of it.

When the angel arrived with news of her impending pregnancy, Mary could have become stubborn and feisty, saying, “Oh, no, I’m not having a baby. I’m planning my wedding! WED-ding. You got that, Mr. Gabriel?”

Or she could have become fretful and agitated, pacing back and forth, saying, “What is my mother going to say? What will my cousin say? Oh, no! What will Joseph say? What am I gonna do . . . what am I gonna doooo? Don’t tell me to calm down!”

Or she could have taken a manipulative, damage-control approach, saying, “Joseph, let’s get married right now. If we hurry, we can make this look like a honeymoon baby. We have to! If you love me, you will.”

Later, when Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she could have been self-absorbed, saying, “Elizabeth, my life is over! All of my dreams are smashed! No, I’m not being dramatic; I’m pregnant!”

At the end of her pregnancy, as Joseph saddled up the donkey for Bethlehem, Mary could have stamped her foot, saying, “Are you kidding me? Do you see this belly? I am not going. You can go by yourself, and I’ll stay with my mother.”

Then in Bethlehem, with contractions coming, she could have been entitled and rude, saying, “Joseph, did you tell that innkeeper who I am? I am the mother of God’s Son, for crying out loud. How dare He stuff me in this stable!”

A Jesus Girl

Of course, Mary did none of these things. She was anything but a Christmas Control Girl. Instead, she was a beautiful example of a Jesus Girl. She gave up control and centered her life around Jesus.

Listen to the deep surrender in Mary’s words when she responded to Gabriel’s message. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This is remarkable, because for all the honor of being chosen for this role in God’s story, there was just as much dishonor and sacrifice to Mary’s own personal story. Her life was going to be upturned, her plans and security threatened. Yet rather than objecting or panicking or obsessing, Mary responded with sweet, trusting surrender.

The fact that she reacted this way immediately (rather than needing time to warm up to the idea) leads me to believe that this wasn’t the first time Mary had said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Turn-on-a-dime surrender doesn’t just happen. It’s cultivated over time. I’m guessing that in the weeks, months, and years leading up to this point, Mary had made a practice of saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

This practice is what separates Control Girls from Jesus Girls. Jesus Girls enter the day or the season with a disposition of surrender toward God. Control Girls habitually clutch their own small-minded plans for how everything should go.

Disrupted Plans

Notice that when Gabriel burst into Mary’s life, disrupting all of her plans, he called her, “O favored one” (Luke 1:28). Apparently, Gabriel saw this life-interruption as God’s favor upon Mary. And the same is true for us.

God isn’t trying to make our lives miserable when He disrupts our idea of how things should go. Like with Mary, God’s interruptions in life are often invitations to play a role in the unfolding story that centers on Jesus. He asks us to set aside our plans and let our story get swept up into the bigger story that is all about God and His people. And like Mary, we have a choice. Will we try to take back control? Or will we surrender?

Cultivating Surrender

As a woman who craves control, I’m learning that I can’t live life both ways. I can’t clamp down on my own self-focused ideals and surrender to God at the same time. I can’t give vent to my desire for control over the future and surrender my future to God. I can’t develop a habit of insisting on my own way and keep Jesus at the center. This is especially true at Christmas.

Because I have heightened expectations at Christmastime, I must be careful to enter the season with extra focus on surrender. It’s ridiculous how bent out of shape I can get over little things like how the ornaments are arranged or the orderliness of gift opening. But surrendering in these little, momentary ways can train my heart for the bigger things God might ask me to surrender.

This Christmas whether I face big interruptions to my plans or small ones, I want to avoid the mistakes other Control Girls of the Bible made. I want to keep sight of God’s bigger story, which centers on Jesus, not me. Like Mary, I want to cultivate a heart of surrender that says, “Behold, I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me according to your word.”

This is the way to make Christmas (and every other season as well) the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Did Christmas bring out the worst in you? What heightened expectations do you need to manage or let go of in the future? Which small thing can you surrender today, which will help cultivate an attitude that says, “Yes, Lord” to whatever big thing He might ask of you?


This post first appeared on the True Woman blog, a ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

For more information on my Bible study, Control Girlwhich releases in January, or if you’re a leader, considering this resource for your group, please check out all of my free resources here.

 

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Reflections on Surrender

Just in time for Christmas!

Reflections on Surrender is an adult coloring book, filled with truth about control, ourselves, and God–messages that closely correlate with my soon-to-be released book, Control Girl. While you don’t have to work through the Bible study to enjoy the coloring book, we thought it might be nice to offer them as compliments to each other.

“God never intended you to carry the burden of trying to control everything. Though most of us would agree God is in control, we find ourselves living as if he needed a little assistance from us. Let us entice you to a different perspective.

Inside these pages, you’ll be invited to surrender to an all-powerful, loving God. As you find a restful place to color and reflect on the truths contained here, you’ll find peace soaking into your very soul.”

The original artwork in Reflections on Surrender was done by  Janyre Tromp (who, by the way, was also the editor for Control Girl). Janyre and I hope that as you add color and design to the artwork, you’ll also soak your heart in the truth on the page.

Special Pricing for Groups:

If you’re interested in buying a lot of these books for your group, or as gifts, please contact me in the form below or at shannon@shannonpopkin.com. The price on Amazon is $9.99. However, I can offer you a rate of $5.99/book if you buy 10 or more, and $4.99 if you buy 20 or more. Thanks so much for your interest!

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I Returned His Christmas Gift

(An updated repost from 2013). 

I was a new wife. He was my new husband. And I returned his Christmas gift.

It was a jewelry box–one of those big wooden ones–and he spent a fortune on it. But he encouraged me to take it back if I didn’t really like it.

I thought I was being reasonable when I took his word for it and exchanged it for something I ‘needed’. But now I think I was being foolish.

In fact, if I could talk to my twenty-six-year-old self, here’s what I’d say:

“Ok, I get it. You like to shop for deals. You only buy things on sale. You feel good when you prove that money has elastic in it. And yes, money is tight right now. I get that you want to be conscientious about spending.

But here’s the thing. You weren’t the one spending. You didn’t buy jewelry box. He did.

And yes, of course he said that you could take it back. He did that because he’s a great guy. But did you see that little searching look in his eye, when you opened his gift? Did you see how he watched you, carefully measuring your reaction, as you pulled the paper away from the box? He wasn’t looking at the price tag. He was looking at you. He was loving you, and trying to please you.

Now, here’s something that you don’t yet know about yourself. You’re a Control Girl. You naturally gravitate toward wanting to control. And guess what? Gifts are one of those things in life that you can’t control. You don’t know what will be under the wrapping paper. You can’t control what he’ll buy.

That won’t stop you from trying, though. In the coming years, you will return so many gifts that your sweet husband will lose heart and quit trying so hard. He’ll just go to the store and buy whatever you circled in the sale ad, wrap it up, and hope to see you smile. But by reducing him to a circled-ad gift buyer, you stamp out some of the glowing embers of Christmas.

Here’s my advice: Keep the jewelry box. Keep the sparkle in his eye. Enjoy his choice, and let him choose how much to spend on it. Don’t be a Christmas Control Girl! Be a cheerful, grateful wife, and let yourself delight in your husband’s gift! By doing so, you’ll be a delight to him–both on Christmas Day and the days following, as well.”

Now that I’ve given my younger self some adivce, I’m thinking it might apply to my older self, as well. How about you? Are you a Control Girl at Christmas? If so, let me just say that I get you. I know you’re not trying to exasperate anyone; you’re just trying to make everything turn out right!

But let me ask you. When you clamp down on everything from who will buy what for whom to who will open what when, does this fill your family with Christmas cheer? Or does it make everybody miserable?

I’m learning that the only way to conquer my control problem is to do the opposite of taking control: surrender. To give up control, rather than lunging for it. In my soon-to-be-released book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, I talked a lot about surrendering to God, and His plans for our lives. But there’s also something to be said for surrendering to the people that we love.

When we doggedly insist on keeping the same menu or having the Christmas party at the same place as last year, the people we’re most trying to make everything “right” for–our husbands and children and cousins and aunts–are only getting frustrated and discouraged.

Christmas is a great time to practice surrendering. It’s a great time to give up control and put someone else’s wishes above your own. So what’s one thing you can let go of this Christmas? A tradition or an expectation? The guest list or the order of events? What’s one thing that you’d like to control, but won’t?

Perhaps like me, you need to rethink how you respond to your Christmas presents. Gift receiving is a great way to practice surrendering control. When you open a gift from a loved one, this Christmas, why not give in to his or her preferences?

Wear the scarf.

Read the book.

Plug in the appliance.

Delight in both the gift, and the giver. Surrender yourself to the joy of others, and you’ll find more joy for yourself, too! I should know; I’ve tried it both ways.

PS. (I have no idea what my husband will get me for Christmas this year. I haven’t even made a suggestion! But here’s one thing I know: I’m going to keep it, and enjoy it, and savor the time with him.)

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