Losing *the Illusion of* Control

Written by Laura Crist

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have control over a single thing in your own life? Like the Earth is spinning wildly off its axis and there is absolutely nothing you can do or say to change it? Perhaps you’ve experienced just one bad Murphy’s Law Monday, or a month -  even a year - of bad Mondays where nothing seems to go your way.

When I was just 31, I was told that it would be extremely difficult for me to have biological children, even with the assistance of the most advanced fertility treatments. The news came after two years of attempting to get pregnant, with no other health issues to note.

Rewind back through those years before that diagnosis to when I was 29 and newly married. I had been like most ambitious modern women I know: assuming I could keep pouring everything into my career, and the baby(ies) would just happen when I got ready - presumably at some point in my early-to-mid 30’s. If anything, I figured my husband’s age might affect any future children (he is thirteen years my senior).

I should also confess that I happen to have my PhD in the art of being in control. I am a woman of decision and action, a mission-minded mama who lives for a cause to fight, a problem to fix and a wrong to right. I get a rush out of taking risks and making moves where others might be too scared (or too wise?) to act. I am the woman who, fresh out of college, barged into a campaign headquarters and worked my way into a press secretary job on a top congressional race with no prior experience and the audacity to believe that I could. In similar fashion, I forged my way to Washington, D.C. to pursue a political and congressional career 800 miles away from home. But the decisiveness and quickness to act that had served me well in my career in politics was pretty darn useless in the doctor’s office.

Weeks and months of trying to get pregnant had turned into years, and I began to get a sinking feeling. You know the one where your gut confirms your worst fears before anyone else recognizes it or dares to say it out loud? I look back now and realize the Holy Spirit was beginning to gently break me and prepare me for the disappointments ahead. Still, I told myself, I had met tough odds before. Surely this was something we could address with vitamins, a diet change, a slower-paced work environment? I was even open to fertility aids as a last resort. Our faith was a nice backup. But we also had a plan.

I distinctly remember leaving doctors’ offices feeling sick to my stomach, confused, and just plain angry. One highly-recommended clinic overwhelmed us with information, but all I remembered was a smug male doctor bragging: “You’re young; we’ll have you pregnant in no time.” I literally ran out of his office knowing that nothing was further from the truth.

By the time I did finally receive a very different diagnosis (from a very different doctor), the bad news felt almost as therapeutic as a cure. Mostly because she leveled with me and didn’t pretend to have godlike powers. She counseled us that we didn’t have time to waste on milder medications and treatments, and suggested we go straight to the most invasive and aggressive options available. Ultimately I ended up not even being a good candidate for the options she recommended.  I slowly began to come to grips with the reality that this was a case where I had absolutely no control. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

The fear of losing control has driven many a person into deep depression; including me. And while I am certainly not qualified to counsel the clinically depressed, I do think there’s a healthy exercise to be had for the rest of us if we stopped and considered: What if I’m really not in control?  I’m not just talking about matters of elusive fertility or life and death. But what if many of the things we spend our everydays toiling and sweating and worrying over are not actually ours to own? Suspend your modern, Western, progressive-individualistic thinking for a moment to consider it. What if we are kidding ourselves - and killing ourselves - over the illusion that we are somehow in control of our little worlds that exist inside a much-bigger universe that precedes us and will be here long after we are gone?

It is just this kind of reminder that God gives in Job 38, when he asks of his servant:

v. 4-33 "Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?... Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days? … Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?... Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?"

Jesus rebukes in similar fashion in his famous sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 6:

v. 27-28 "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? ... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin…"

Talk about perspective. Yet these are not just cruel cosmic smackdowns from the Creator to put his creation in check. We are also meant to be reminded, with the severest of mercy, that we are not in control and that that is the best gift we could ever ask for.

God goes on to remind Job that it is He who sends the rain upon the earth and He who provides for the ravens. Jesus reminds us that we are much more precious to Him than the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field He clothes with such care.

That’s a hard pill to swallow that in the midst of a Job-like trial or devastating life circumstances. This sassy, headstrong, make-it-happen, independent woman was broken by the reality of a deeply personal and painful shattered dream as well as the fact that I had absolutely no say in the matter. Looking back, I’m honestly not certain I could tell you which of these stung more.

Yet, it was also strangely freeing. Like a lightbulb in my heart, as I began to feel released from my illusions of control, I also began to feel released from so many burdens I had toiled and fretted over for years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I had reason to stop showing up to work, check out of my obligations, and go off the grid. But I felt lifted of the weight of all the things for which I mistakenly thought the universe was depending on me: my perfect daily performance, others’ decisions and plights, outcomes and circumstances that far exceeded my grasp.

Just like the doctor who shot me straight and saved me the time and suffering of chasing down false cures and treatments. Who relieved me of the fallacy that I could muscle our way to a miracle.

The moment of my biggest defeat somehow also became the moment of my greatest freedom and renewal of hope. The release to start dreaming for a very different future than either my husband or I had ever before imagined.

You see, in the background, God had been working to pull us toward adoption, and surrounding us with resources as well as patient, compassionate adoptive families.

Sometimes you think you understand a scripture. And then God lets you live it.

In Matthew 16, Jesus instructs the disciples:

v.25 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."

This verse is so much bigger than whatever pieces of our life we are clinging to at the moment, under the illusion we are in control. It’s even bigger than God showing up to give us something as good as a child, which he ultimately did. It’s recognizing that our lives were never ours to begin with. It is the freedom of relinquishing our hearts and our minds to what is true, as opposed to being bound in the dark with the comfort of a lie.

No two fertility journeys are the same, and what God had for us was what God had for us and no one else. Still I am convinced that, had we continued to blindly pursue fertility treatments, we would have missed out on our son.

It is so clear to me now how God worked to break my plans and show me I was merely operating under the illusion of control. As a type-A person, I have far from perfected the art of letting go and looking to God (my hubby likes to say I want to “put a steering wheel on” everything). But every time we are tempted, we need only look at our beautiful, bubbly baby boy to remember once more.

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I’ve come to find that the moments we see ourselves as the most helpless are also our moments of most clarity and freedom. And the many moments we are tempted to think we are in control of our lives, to the exclusion of our Almighty God on His throne, we are actually the most deceived.

Years ago, I might have told you I had perfected the art of taking charge of my life. Today, I will tell you that I only ever have had the illusion of control. And losing it is the best thing that ever happened to me.

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