After speaking on the topic of control at an event, a young mom, eyes brimming with tears, came up afterward to tell me a woeful tale about her uber-controlling MIL. I listened compassionately, thinking, “Really? Could this woman truly be that horrible and exasperating?” But the strain and grief on her young face was validation that story was true.
Every time I hear a story like this, I’m reminded of what I don’t want to become. The mother-in-law I don’t want to someday be. The pain and pressure I don’t want to create on my loved ones’ faces. And yet I’m not naïve enough to think it could never be me. Because I’ll bet that girl’s MIL thinks it could never be her, either!
As I’ve talked with women about this issue with control, over the past decade, I’ve noticed that the most controlling among us don’t think they have an issue with control. They are simply blind to their own issues. And in fact, they think the problem is reversed; from their perspective, everyone else is trying to control them!
Don’t Control Me!
Now, it’s true that other people can overstep and try to control. And caving in to controlling people isn’t the answer. But if I’m convinced that everyone is trying to control me, it’s time to check the mirror and see if I might be the one with the problem.
Let me share an example for context. I heard about one elderly Control Girl who—whenever she comes to a four-way stop, and another driver kindly waves for her to go first—becomes irate! She says, “They’re trying to control me! I will not be controlled!” Can’t you just picture her glaring out, with her wrinkled hands gripping the steering wheel, and her granny shoe stubbornly planted on the break, until the other driver is forced to go first?
What a sad, but humorous picture of where our struggle with control takes us. Even in a situation when someone is trying to yield to us, our obsession with control causes us to have a warped perspective. Our lives might intersect with the most kind, generous people on earth, but if we bent on having control, we will be convinced that even the most benign gestures are their attempts at prying control from our grip.
Intersections in Life
Life is really just a series of four-way stops, intersecting people who may or may not, be easy to yield to. But if I’m bent on having control, I will approach every cross section with entitlement, skepticism, and angry resentment. I’ll convince myself each time I feel tension in a relationship, it’s because the other person is trying to control me.
Friend, God doesn’t want us to go through life shaking our fists at one another and planting our feet on the brakes. He wants us learn to graciously yield—not to other people but to Him. After all, He is the One arranging these spontaneous intersections—with mother-in-laws, daughters, neighbors, and friends, is He not? If He had intended for us to maintain complete independence and control (picture all of us parked in our garages with the doors down), He wouldn’t have created us as interdependent people who need each other.
He doesn’t want us playing God in each others’ lives; He’s already got the God chair occupied. But yielding to Him will always involve connecting with—and yielding to—other people. Even the one who’s waving for us to go first.
Approaching An “Intersection”
I can’t turn a controlling woman (like the granny with her foot on the brakes at the four way stop) into a sweetly surrendered woman of God. And if I try, I’ll only become just like her—since I’d need to out-control her. Really, the only person I have control over is me.
So how can I become a sweetly surrendered woman of God, especially when I encounter “that Other Control Girl”? I’m learning that yielding is something I must do far before I ever get to the four-way stops. Before I arrive at the meeting. Before I have the conversation. Before I see my son’s dirty socks on the counter. Before I make it to the coffee pot in the morning.
If I will crack open my Bible, fill my lungs with the truths of Scripture, and breathe them out in prayer… a power is unleashed upon me. The Spirit of God softens my heart, and makes it yield-able. This is how he fashions me into the image of his Son—who was more yielded to God than any other person who has ever lived.
Will I become like that uber-controlling MIL who grieves her loved ones and creates strain and stress? My decision is being made little by little, over a lifetime of four-way stops. Today, I’m becoming the woman I will someday be.
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