Coping with our broken illusion of control

We like to be in control—or, at least, to feel like we’re in control. The fact that I can control the temperature of my house from an app on my phone, or adjust the position of my car seat with a button, makes me feel good—like I’m in control.

It seems like every other TV commercial or social media ad is about how the latest product will help you “take control of your life.” The advertisers know something: We like control, and we want more of it.

Previous generations were much more familiar with not having control. They knew what it was to feast or famine based on the weather and crops. Many didn’t even have doctors in their towns; illness came often and could be fatal.

My dad grew up in a small house in rural Muskoka. It didn’t have an indoor bathroom. In my house, not only do we have two bathrooms, but we have gadgets and appliances galore. I just heated up my coffee in a microwave—instantly. And I didn’t need a fire to do it.

Enter COVID-19. Many of the things in our daily lives that made us feel like we were in control are now gone or have changed. Sure, we still have thermostats and microwaves. But let’s go deeper.

Consider predictable routines like going to work, the arena, or school. Meals with family or friends, graduations, church services, and playing at the park play a vital role, socially and psychologically, by providing an invisible-yet-stabilizing assurance that life is proceeding as it should, even if it’s not always easy.

Now that things are evolving or different, many people are feeling disrupted. Disrupted from the stability of normal, from feeling like they have control.

But here’s the thing. We never really had that much control in the first place. We may have had the illusion of control, but it was only an illusion. There’s an old saying that there are only three days of the week that we have no control over: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Maybe it took a global pandemic, but we’ve certainly discovered how true that is.

So as we watch our illusions of control fade in the rear-view mirror, where do we plant our feet as we wade into a new version of our lives that will most certainly be less certain that we could have ever predicted?

The ancient Hebrews knew what it was like to live with uncertainty. As they wandered through the desert after having been freed from slavery in Egypt, there must have been ambiguity around every corner. They definitely didn’t have all the answers, but they had God, his commands, Moses’ leadership, and each other. And that’s how they lived—for forty years!

In the New Testament, many of Jesus’ disciples left daily comforts and jobs in the literal dust as they took a risk and began following the enigmatic teacher and wonder-worker from Galilee. They definitely didn’t have all the answers either; but they had Jesus and each other, and that was pretty much all they needed—even if they often failed to understand who he was or what he was doing.

Regardless of what you do (or don’t) believe, I think cracks in our illusion of control can be a good thing. A crisis opens our eyes to how much control we don’t have in the grand scheme of life, lays bare our anxious desire for control in more ways than maybe we’d like to admit, and begs the question about where we can plant our feet when everything goes wonky.

As a pastor, I often tell the congregation I’ve served for the past twelve years that God is in control even when we feel out of control. There’s enduring comfort in that, and hope. Jesus himself says that his words will never pass away even after heaven and earth are no more (Mark 13:31). It’s something I’ve had to continually remind myself as well. After all, just because I’m a pastor that doesn’t mean I have it all together—I don’t!

What about you? Maybe you have also watched your illusions of control fade in the rear-view mirror. Maybe you’ve been doing some soul-searching and have discovered more anxious desires for control than you’d like to admit. If so, where can you plant your feet when everything goes wonky?

Let me suggest three things:

First, worship.

When we worship God we allow ourselves to be tethered to the trustworthy Rock, and fix our eyes and hearts on the one certainty in a world that isn’t. We are given spiritual food, guidance, perspective and help. Worship doesn’t make you feel more “in control.” But it reminds you that you’re in the care of the One who is.

Second, the Bible and prayer.

When we read the Bible and pray on a daily basis, we are led forward in God’s light and friendship. Our knowledge is limited, but his wisdom is unlimited. We may not know what’s around the corner, but we march forward with the One who does.

Third, love.

When we engage in regular, simple acts of care for those around us we are doing something meaningful which pleases and glorifies God. We are also proactively helping his children at a time when many people are oscillating between “okay” and “definitely not okay” on a daily basis.

Let’s be honest. We like to be in control—or, at least, to feel like we’re in control. But it’s important to remember that we never really had that much control in the first place. We may have had the illusion of control, but it was just that, an illusion.

COVID-19 has done a lot of harm. But perhaps a silver lining for all of us can be a brave letting go of our lust for control, and a re-rooting of ourselves in worship, in the Bible and prayer, and in love for neighbour.

As a result, we’ll have feet more firmly planted for a brand new world.


CLICK HERE to sign up for my daily email devotional called “Up!” which is delivered to your inbox five mornings a week (Monday – Friday).

CLICK HERE to connect directly to the YouTube live-stream of the church I pastor (Westminster) for Sunday morning services at 10:01am.

CLICK HERE to learn about my new book: Turbulence: Devotionals to Steady You Through The Storms of Life published by Thicket Books.

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