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My friend “Sydney” longs to have a close relationship with her mother-in-law, “June”. Sydney has always wondered if she measures up to June’s classy standards, and she craves June’s love and acceptance. Sydney recently announced her first pregnancy, which she hoped would win June’s affection. But instead, June seems to be pulling away even more.
Sydney asked if they could go shopping for cribs or paint the nursery together, but so far June hasn’t found time. Sydney is hurting so deeply over this, but as far as she can tell, June is oblivious to her pain.
June is a classic Control Girl. (Sydney took the Control Girl Quiz for her, so it’s been confirmed.) She keeps her home, appearance, and lifestyle spotless and everyone knows her expectations. But there’s one person who rattles June. It’s her own mother-in-law (who is also a Control Girl). For thirty years, June has been building an emotional wall to protect herself. But this self-protective wall runs the circumference of June’s life, blocking everyone out.
Sydney desperately wants inside that wall. She is willing to tear it down with her own hands if that’s what it takes to feel the warmth of a mother-in-law who accepts her. But every time she reaches for a brick, June only replaces it.
Recently, Sydney’s restlessness and drive to improve her relationship with June have been keeping her up at night. Sometimes, after everyone is asleep, she steals out to the living room to let the feelings of rejection and disappointment spill down her cheeks, silently in the darkness.
Breaking the Pattern
Last time I talked about how our reactions to other Control Girls can cause us to adopt their same habits. Their issues are duplicated in us and we become Control Girls, too—which isn’t what we wanted. When we spend life lunging for control, we not only become women we don’t want to become; we make ourselves miserable in the process.
This is what Sydney has been experiencing. Syd acknowledges her own control issues. In fact, when she first reached out to me, she said laughingly, “I know I’m a Control Girl, too. Help!”
Sydney sees that her own anger, anxiety, and obsession are all being fed by her underlying desire for control, but seeing the problem is only the first step. Sydney now has a choice. Will she become more entrenched in her control-craving ways? Or will she allow God to use this out-of-her-control situation to transform her and make her more like Jesus?
A Control-Craving Antidote
The antidote for control is surrender. Not surrendering to a person or situation, but surrendering to God. For each of us, and in each situation, this will look a little different. We have to consider exactly what our hearts are craving and surrender that to God. This, by the way, is what changes us! This habit of surrendering to God and saying, “Not my will but yours be done,” is what makes us more like Jesus.
To help Sydney sort this out for herself, I said, “Syd, obviously this is very painful for you. Can you tell me what your heart is most craving from June? What is the outcome that you don’t think you can live without?”
Sydney thought carefully, then shared with me one of her earliest memories.
At age two, she had awakened in the night and needed someone to take her potty, but neither of her parents were available. They were in the other room having a fierce argument. Sydney remembers crouching down in the dark, hiding next to the potty with tears streaming down her cheeks. She was too young to understand what the fight was about, or to even be able to articulate what her heart longed for. But Sydney realized that what she wanted then is what she still craves today:
Peace. Security. The tranquility of belonging to a family that is loyal and unified. This is Sydney’s version of a “Happy Ending”. She’s been longing for it since her earliest moments of conscious memory. And she has heaped onto her own shoulders the burden of making it come true.
The Happy Ending Facade
What’s your version of a Happy Ending? What is it that you long for? And how is that other Control Girl posing a threat to your plans? If you’re not sure, consider what makes you most angry, irritated, anxious, or upset. What do you want her to either do or not do?
See if you can boil your thoughts down and fill in the blank:
“I want __________________ because I’m convinced that it will lead to a Happy Ending.”
Often, the things we’re most adamant or insistent about in the short term are tied to some long term hope or goal that we don’t think we can live without. We white-knuckle our way through life, determined to have this Happy Ending we’re dreaming of.
But how much control over this do we really have? Sydney, at age 24, has no more control over her Happy Ending than she did at age two. She couldn’t make her parents get along back then, and she can’t make her mother-in-law accept her into the family right now. Decades have gone by and she’s still crouching in the dark with tears streaming down her face. She’s still filled with anxiety, frustration, and longing. And she still feels responsible to make it all turn out right.
The Last Page
Picture Jesus, coming to sit cross-legged next to two-year-old Sydney, there on the tiled floor of the bathroom. What do you suppose He would say to her? Perhaps He would gather her little body into His arms like a Daddy and tell her that He loves her and will be with her always. That even when her parents fight and she feels so alone, there is nothing to fear. That He will always be there to comfort her and give her peace, and in Him she is completely secure.
And isn’t this what Jesus would still whisper to her today?
None of us, including Sydney, can singlehandedly create our own version of a Happy Ending. The world is too big and complex, and we are too small. It isn’t possible to manage it all, and we lead ourselves to bondage when we try.
Our freedom comes only when we lay down our hopes and plans, and surrender to the one who is in control: God.
It’s important, though, to remember that we aren’t surrendering to a vicious tyrant who wants to extract every drop of joy from our lives. We’re surrendering to a good and loving Father who wants to gather us up in His arms and offer us peace, security, and joy.
In Isaiah 46, God says to His people,
“Listen to me… you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Is. 46:3-4)
God wants His children to feel safe and secure, for even our future rests securely in His hands! He goes on to say,
“Remember this, keep it in mind…
I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
From ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.
What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned I will do.” (Is. 46:8-11)
For those of us who love Him, God is preparing the happiest of Happy Endings. Our storyline is secure. God already knows what is going on the last page! What He has planned, He will do. And there is no Control Girl on the planet who can unravel even one sentence of the story God is writing. There is no such thing as a threat to our Happy Ending.
So how does this help? What difference does it make? It’s like enduring a day of subzero cold, knowing that a thousand years of sunny summer will follow. Or it’s like having five dollars stolen, but knowing that you have a hundred million dollars safe in the bank. This solid hope of a Happy Ending written in permanent ink allows us to flip back to today’s journal entry and give God the pen.
In his book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn says, “The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell.”
Yes, your turmoil over the other Control Girl might rank in the top ten difficulties in your life. But even so, as you struggle toward life’s finish line, you’re inching toward heaven’s gate, where all your pain will expire.
In this series, we’re talking about How to Be Free of that Other Control Girl. I’m offering Five Surrender Steps to Freedom. To begin, we’re starting with the end of the story. Step one is:
Let God Write the End of the Story.
This week, you might encounter the other Control Girl doing her thing.
- She might say something condescending or critical that makes you feel small.
- She might make you feel unwanted, unloved, or devalued.
- She might make demands or show you no respect.
As you either prepare for these encounters or unravel your emotions afterward, here is your assignment.
Find time to settle yourself in God’s presence and read Isaiah 46. Write out any of the promises you want to hold onto. Now, consider how your story is tucked into God’s. Picture the last page of the story, where you are in heaven with Jesus. (Read Revelation 21:1-7 if you need to set the scene.) Envision yourself completely secure, at peace, and filled with joy as you experience the ultimate Happy Ending.
From that position (which will one day be yours), look back at the trial you’re facing. Look at this difficult woman whom you have no control over, and pray:
Lord, You know that I want ____________________, but I trust You with her.
God, my story is Your story. You write the Happy Ending. Here, I’m giving you the pen.”
No, you can’t create your own version of a Happy Ending, and you’ll be miserable if you try. But you can trust in the One who says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. What I have said, I will bring about; what I have planned I will do.” (Is. 46:10-11)
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.
- Subscribe here to have each post in this series delivered to your email.
Shannon, this is so good. It’s so good to know we fight from victory and not for it. So hard to live out, but what better use of imagination than to imagine the good ending that’s coming? Thank you for encouraging me to keep this truth front and center while dealing with Control Girls, including the recovering one typing this!
Again, thanks so much, Pearl! Yes–fighting FROM victory, not FOR it! That’s so good. And yes, picturing the end of the story is powerful and puts things in alignment for today.
Much love, my friend!!