Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Issues of Control

My 4-year-old grandson, Nolan, a couple of weeks before he turned 4, asked me, "Does God have a controller that makes us walk and talk?" (I discuss that conversation in the blog, God's Control, which you can read by clicking the link.)

Inadvertently, because of that question, he became the catalyst for this week's Group Blogging Experience (GBE 2) blog, because when I learned that the topic for this week was "control," I couldn't help but blog about Nolan's comment.

Nolan was not quite 4 when he asked if God controlled his every move, and I couldn't help but wonder how many adults thought the same way.

At times I have felt that my life was so out of control that somebody else had to be pulling the strings. As a marionette in somebody else's puppet show, I complained about how everything kept happening TO me and about how my circumstances were so out of my control I could do nothing to change them.

My response to Nolan's question, by the way (in case you didn't read the blog), was that WE control our lives by the choices we make. And I firmly believe that to be true, though after I thought about my response, I realized that our choices don't always result in outcomes we anticipated.

That we have a choice helps us feel some measure of control – God did, after all, provide us with Free Will – but despite knowing we control certain aspects of our lives through our choices, we often feel that nothing we do and no choice we make will ever change the negative circumstances of our lives.

And the younger we are the less likely we are to believe that anything good will come out of destructive influences. We see no end to unhappiness. We don't believe that a light exists at the end of the tunnel. We sometimes feel stuck in our current situation, afraid to move forward, and that sense of losing control feels paralyzing. How many of us wish we could press rewind?

To have had the option of pressing rewind on my own personal controller would have prevented words I didn't mean to say from spewing out of my mouth. And pressing fast forward could have prevented me from attending events I didn't want to attend, working at tasks (jobs) I didn't want to perform, or developing relationships with people who disappointed me.

Without the benefit of knowing every possible outcome of each choice I made (though some outcomes should have been obvious), I soon discovered that my choices affected other people, people whose responses to the choices I made I also could not control.

An unplanned pregnancy at the age of 17, for example, turned the lives of everyone around me upside down. I had no idea how many people would be affected by my choice to engage in an activity that would bring forth a child. I could have chosen to not have my baby or to not keep her, but I wouldn't have been able to live with the feelings that accompanied a choice to either abort her or give her up for adoption. Keeping the baby presented problems too, though – mostly financial.

I don't regret having her, but I wish I had been thinking more of her than of myself when I decided to get pregnant.

Words I didn't mean to say, events I didn't want to attend, jobs I didn't want to perform, and relationships that disappointed me, though I thought at the time they "ruined my life," actually contributed to building my character. I am who I am today as a result of all of those words, events, jobs, and relationships.

After a while I learned that I couldn't control my situations, but I could control my reaction to those situations. That lesson – controlling my reaction to situations – took me years to figure out.

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans" (John Lennon), and that is exactly what happens to all of us. Though we work incessantly to control our lives with plans to live here, to work there, to visit this place and that, life interrupts our plans, and we have to learn to adjust.

We also have to learn how to give up that need to control, because while we are busy controlling and planning the events in our lives, the world around us changes and those changes transform us – sometimes dramatically – tsunamis, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, for example. Anyone who has been personally affected by one of those catastrophes feels control slipping away from them like snow in an avalanche.

Other events make us feel as if the Earth has flipped on its axis too. Death, divorce, job loss, rape, and all kinds of destructive forces contribute to our feeling that we have lost control of our environment and of our lives. We experience our own personal tsunamis as we watch our lives crumble around us.

We learn that we can control nature no more than we can control other people. We can, however, control the way we handle out-of-control situations. Devastation challenges us to become stronger, to weather the storms, and to move on.

Through our choices, we come to realize that we have created our own chaos because of our responses to outside influences. We feel lost and hopeless. But total annihilation presents us with an opportunity for reconstruction, regeneration, and rebirth. That old saying, "When one door closes, another opens" is true if we open our eyes to see the opportunities that await us.

Unplanned teenage pregnancies, failed marriages, poverty, illness, and all kinds of destructive occurrences test our resolve. Like the Phoenix who rises from the ashes, we must pull ourselves out of our despair and rise above our circumstances. We may have lost control of our lives, but we haven't lost our lives.

Every choice we make results in a consequence or a reward. As we mature, we realize that the consequences of our decisions sometimes become rewards – that unplanned pregnancy could bring into our lives a baby that will bring us more love and joy than we ever thought possible. That child might result in grandchildren – more people to love.

I'm not condoning unplanned teenage pregnancy. I think MTV is doing a great job promoting teenage pregnancy all by itself with its "16 and Pregnant" television series. I wonder how many teenagers, even after witnessing the struggles involved in becoming a pregnant 16-year-old, would like to be part of that reality program? But that's another blog.

In the nearly 60 years I have been living, I have learned that as much as I would like to control other people, I cannot, because they make their own decisions. Whether they are my family or my friends, I have no control over their decisions – I have control only over my own.

And so I allow my personal controller to sit on "play." As the events in my life unfold, I deal with them, sometimes not well, but I deal with them.

Would I really want to control my life so much that I had the ability to fast-forward through my life? No, because I would miss valuable lessons that taught me how to become "me". To "know myself" takes time. When disruptive events cause me to feel I've lost control of my life, I discover who I am by how I handle those events.

If I could press rewind, knowing what I know now, I might discover that I would still marry the men I married, because they gave me the children I love. That pervert who took advantage of me at one of my former jobs benefited me, because I learned – eventually – how to stand up for myself and for others because of him.

Every challenge I've experienced teaches me who I am through the way I handle it. I might hold the controller in my hand, but the only things I can control are the choices I make.

So I will continue to press "play" until one day God or life itself presses "stop."

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  1. Interesting post. I believe we control our own lives too--or rather fail to.

  2. I am really thinking that 'replay' button thing over! lol Enjoyed your view.

  3. That is awesome. True there is no rewind button, but how much of it would you truly change?

  4. You are so right in that we may make the right choices and still not get the desired outcome, because in many ways we could never truly control that outcome to begin with, but we can choose to control how we handle each situation as it arises.

    Great post!!

    Cheers, Jenn

  5. What a great post!! An interesting question for sure! Our choices effect the outcome, whether using a TV remote or in life.


  6. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol i think your grandkids are ADORABLE! i went on the same angle too...CHOICES hehe..love reading everyone's take on this..LOVE Our group...and yes..PLAY on!! : )

  7. You bring up a lot of wonderful insights! I think that our choices certainly do have consequences therefore do control our destiny. It's Karma. I also think that God watches over, protects and guides our choices and if we were to meditate and pray, our choices would become more aligned with what is our best interests...

  8. Thank you for this. What we learn from our 'mistakes' and challenges is invaluable. This is what makes life so intriguing and amazing. Sometimes, what appears to be disastrous can be a wonderful opportunity for growth, which you have so beautifully expressed. We truly never know what's in store!

    Om and Blessings,


  9. "As the events in my life unfold, I deal with them, sometimes not well, but I deal with them."

    Honestly, that's all any of us can do. We might like to kid ourselves otherwise, but bottom line--you nailed it in that one sentence.

  10. Right on. This is so true, and thought provoking. Thanks.

  11. We learn, we change, we live and we grow. It is all a matter of how we control the way we react. :)

  12. Very nice. I stand beside the choices that I have made in my life and am responsible for them. They were my choices and no one else's. I try to take my life in stride. Sometimes, trying to have too much control over my life can get me in trouble.