Question #4: Would others call you controlling?
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 they were cornered, would the people who love you most privately admit that you are pushy or overbearing?
Some years ago, as we pulled into the driveway of the condo that we were renting for a vacation, my husband said he wanted a word. He told the kids to stay in the van, walked me around the corner, and said, “Shannon, you’ve got to stop. You are going to ruin this whole vacation!”
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. “You’re completely on edge!” he said. “You’re barking orders and snapping at the kids and obsessed over the smallest things…”
It was true that I had been completely stressed out, but for good reason. That morning, when I was packing up our food, I realized we were out of peanut butter so we’d have to make another trip to the store. I also realized the printer wasn’t working, so I couldn’t print out the instructions for getting the key. And now that we had arrived—with no peanut butter and no instructions, I found that the kids had spent the whole time eating candy and throwing the wrappers on the floor. And one kid was missing a shoe!
I was ruining our vacation? Maybe if my husband helped a little, I could have a vacation, TOO!!
I’m sure there was steam coming out of my ears as I expressed all of this, but he just calmly stood there and said, “Seriously. You need to stop. You should see your face right now. When you get like this, we all feel the stress. No one wants to tell you, but I have to! You’re destroying our family time and you’re going to regret it.”
This still seemed preposterous. Me, creating stress and destroying our family time? I was the one most committed to making this vacation—and this family—turn out right! But out of curiosity, once we were inside the condo I went to the bathroom and talked into the mirror with the same expression I had just used in the van, when I demanded that the kids pick up the candy wrappers. It was hideous. What an evil-looking expression. No wonder my family was stressed out.
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
Learning that I’m a Control Girl has been a gradual process. It took me a long time to look my problem in the eye and see it for what it is. But as I’ve done so, I’ve come to see that trying to grasp 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…” Repeatedly, over the years, he’s told me to stop it, cut it out, quit ruining things. Interestingly, I don’t remember him ever using the word “control”, but control was at the root of all of our strife.
Do you have relational tension? Do those closest to you send 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.
It’s probably the last thing you want to do, but think about those who know and love you most and 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.
Next, take these criticisms and complaints and compare them to with 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? Is God validating any of your friends’ or loved ones’ complaints?
Confessing the Sin of Control
So what then? What can we do?
In a word: Repent! Agreeing with God and others about my sin is the pathway to change! It’s the only 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.
Now confessing the sin of control is particularly counterintuitive, because saying I’m wrong gives someone else control. They can then say, “Aha! I’m right! It’s just as I’ve said!” And they might. But more commonly, I’ve found that when I softly confess my Control Girl sin, the other person responds in softness also.
This sort of interchange can breathe life into a brittle relationship. I can’t promise this outcome, of course. But here’s what you can count on. Surrender, over time, is what turns us from Control Girls to Jesus Girls. And there’s no better way to begin the surrender process than with confession. Confession and surrender are intertwined. 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.
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Join me for a study of seven Control Girls of the Bible, who struggled with control in the same way we do: they pushed for their own agendas, tried to make everything turn out according to their plans, and made everybody miserable in the process. By comparing their stories with ours, we learn—in hundreds of ways and examples—that God is in control and we aren’t. And He invites us to live like it’s true.