We like to think we can write our own stories, forge our own paths, and find our own destinies. But if we take a step back and look at how things have unfolded in our lives, there are so many variables and factors that we have no control over. This idea of control is only an illusion, and we are only fooling ourselves.
You can’t stop the rain from coming down on your wedding day, or from the company you work for from going bankrupt. You can’t stop your parent from getting sick, or your house catching fire from a faulty wire.
The Illusion of Control
Like I said before, the idea that we can singlehandedly arrange life to turn out how we would like is nothing more than an illusion. It’s actually an issue that affects our psychology. The Illusion of Control was formally identified by Ellen Langer in 1975, and many psychologists and therapists recognize it in patients today.
To be grounded in reality, we must remember that the only things we CAN really control are:
- Our emotions and reactions to life situations
- What our focus and priorities are in life
- Our actions and words towards ourselves and others
- The choices we make
But too often we fall into a zone, a rhythm or simply a behaviour pattern where we seek to control more than is realistic.
WHY DESIRE FOR CONTROL IS A PROBLEM?
“The biggest problem with the illusion of control is that it leads to frustration and sometimes even to anger. We blame ourselves for outcomes that aren’t our fault. This is particularly true when the stakes are high.” (Read Article)
To be more specific, we have the following problems when we seek to control more than is actually possible:
- You Create Unrealistic Expectations because you have very specific, rigid and maybe unrealistic expectations that you are determined to achieve in order to make you happy. Nothing can go wrong. It must be PERFECT!
- You Set Yourself Up for Disappointment- Reality will fall short one way or another for hundreds of reasons. Unexpected or uncontrollable things are likely going to throw a monkey-wrench into your plans.
- You Don’t Practice Trust- If we don’t trust the people involved in our lives to bring about what we desire, it can become a bigger problem, since trust is a two-way street.
- Your Focus Is Thrown Off – Chances are you are focusing on minute details or something that shouldn’t be getting as much attention as it is.
- You Become Overwhelmed – when you take everything into your own hands, you can drown in the work load, get burdened by the responsibility, or get lost in the maze of multiple options.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3: 5-6
We tend to do this is all major areas of life – family, marriage, finances, goals – where we forget that not every aspect is going to go or turn out how we want. It’s a frustrating cycle that can lead to depression, anger or fear. I know, because I’m a huge planner. Stubbornly I have learned that I am limiting my happiness by doing this.
God knows this is a problem for us, which is why we are told in the bible to surrender our control.
HOW LETTING GO OF CONTROL BRINGS JOY
It seems counterintuitive that giving someone else the reigns will somehow make us happier than doing it ourselves. Here is a simple illustration to help show the opposite is true.
My favourite part of my wedding weekend was my Bachelorette Party. It should be my actual wedding day, but I remember being so happy on the day of my bachelorette party (versus my wedding day which was a bag of nerves, anxiety, joy, hunger, stress, all in one).
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26
It wasn’t just because my best friends and cousin flew in to support me on my big day, or that all my bridesmaids got along. I put my faith and trust in my sister-in-law to take care of the festivities and I enjoyed every moment of it! What made it such a success? Well:
A) My sister-in-law knows me pretty well in terms of what I like and my personality, so she could plan around that.
B) I trusted in her experience, good tastes and knew she cared enough about me to put her heart into my party.
C) Since I didn’t have to do very much, I wasn’t stressed, anxious, or worried and had no idea what to expect, which only made it more exciting!
While having no control over the situation, I found myself enjoying every detail of the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next, instead I was looking FORWARD to the next thing!
THE SAME CAN HAPPEN IN LIFE WHEN YOU TRUST GOD
Instead of experiencing frustration, anger, and doubt when plans fall through or doors are shut, we can experience a joy and peace when we let go and leave things in God’s hands.
Even Psychology Today recognizes that people of faith “are found to be happier; they think that things happen for a reason, that things will work out as they are supposed to, that a higher power is acting on their behalf… there is less need to worry or hold onto a pessimistic view to protect you… you will be happier.” Other positive results is that you will be less likely to become depressed, suicidal, anxious, and less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
The psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits of surrendering control are healthy and positive for our well-being. No wonder God asks us to trust him in all things!
REASONS TO TRUST GOD WITH EVERYTHING
For a Christian, this may seem a redundant question to ask, and yet we need reminding on a daily basis of who God is, besides an all-powerful being.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” Psalm 143:8
1. God is perfect. So while it is hard to trust regular human beings because we fail often, God will never fail to deliver and to deliver something good. (Jeremiah 29:11)
2. God KNOWS you. Better than you know YOURSELF! Who else could you trust more in the whole universe? We may think we know ourselves, but we can be easily deceived and confused by the world.
3. God is your Heavenly Father. He loves and cares for you beyond understanding! He will never, ever disappoint you. (Romans 8:28)
4. God CONTINUALLY reminds us to NOT worry. In fact, the bible has over 300 verses where we are instructed to not worry or not to fear, because God is looking out for our best interests.
5. God gives us the confidence and strength to face life, no matter what comes our way. This alone is HUGE!
6. God blesses us when we give into his perfect will in a way that will always benefit us spiritually.
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” Proverbs 16:20
These are all good, powerful and encouraging reasons why we should let go of illusions of control. How can we not place ALL of our trust in the one true God? It isn’t easy. In fact, just about every Christian walk is a series in which we learn to let go more and more, and trust God more and more.
This blog post was originally twice the size, so I decided to split it in two parts. Stay tuned for part two: What True Surrender Looks Like, where we talk about how do we come to a place where we have full trust in God’s will and plan. We also will look at how trails and hard times play a big role in developing this trust.
Feel free to ask any questions, share some insight, or bring something up in the comments below. We can have a discussion or simply words of encouragement!