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How Controlling Are You?

Life is like Mario Kart. In the early levels, you're driving through Moo Moo Meadows and the grass is green and there's cows and fields and it's lovely. There's an occasional banana peel that gets tossed in the path, and sometimes the cows walk in the road so you try not to hit them. But overall the driving is pretty mellow. 

Then later after you've unlocked other levels, there's stuff like Bowser's Castle. It's a maze with lava on both sides of the path, there's fire and brimstone all around, there's stone columns that try to smash you at random intervals. Just to know where to go and how to steer and stay on the path is complicated.

Some stages of life are like Moo Moo Meadows. The details are easy-peasy and you just keep moving right along. And then there are years like Bowser's Castle where it's pretty intense and you pray a lot because the fire around you is pretty hot and you're trying not to fall in the lava pit. 

During years like this, things might feel a bit out of control. When I was 34, we had three kids and I somehow felt like it was a good idea to add another one to the mix. I remember praying that spring and saying something like, "Dear Heavenly Father. I think it's a good idea to have another little baby. We've decided to go right ahead because I'm not getting any younger. Will you please let me know if I need to change this plan?" And within weeks of that prayer, heaven had pretty much sent a telegram in all caps. "STOP. This is not a good idea. You need to fix a bunch of your own crap first." It's just so fun when you pray for something you think you want, and the answer is No.

It was a year like Bowsers Castle. That summer I worked with a doctor to figure out my brain and to unravel some of the anxiety and insomnia and depression and stress. There was stress in our marriage, and we each chose to keep forgiving each other for being dumb, for being blind and proud. We worked with a counselor who gave us some great insights and advice. If we had had a baby that year, it would have been disastrous. I didn't know that at the time, of course. But in hindsight it's pretty clear. 

One day when I was working with my own counselor, he asked this little nugget: "How controlling are you?" And because I liked him, I didn't kill him for such an impertinent question. How dare he? I'm not controlling at all. In fact, I think I retorted something like "NOT AT ALL," much too quickly. It took about three weeks for me to start seeing that I might actually be just a tiny bit controlling. And then it took a few more months to realize that power is a funny thing. In my need to manage all the chaos, I was actually very controlling and completely unaware of it.

So what does this have to do with Mario Kart? Well, when life has too many banana peels and turtle shells and too much chaos or trauma, we sometimes respond by trying to control other people or details that are not ours to manage. A book that's helped me a lot is "Codependent No More," by Melodie Beatty. One of my favorite quotes: "Not my circus, not my monkeys." In other words, I had to realize that when other people have problems it's not my job to fix them. I can just watch the circus and not interfere. One of the best parts of being human is having problems. Why? Because problems help us to grow and get smarter. If I have a best friend that makes a terrible mistake, of course I love her and listen and encourage. But it's not my job to fix her stuff. If I do, I'm robbing her of the growth that would come as she learns to work through her own difficulties.

As a mom, this is super hard. When babies are small, of course their problems are mine. But as kids grow, they get to make choices and screw up and then there's pain and suffering which leads to growth. But ultimately, I don't own my kids. God does. It's HIS job to help them through the super difficult stuff. It's not my job to control all the details and keep them from making mistakes. 

One cool thing about the latest version of Mario Kart is the little feature where a cloud picks up the drivers who fall off the road. When you crash into something or accidentally drive off the path, there's a little help that comes automatically. Maybe there's a metaphor in here too. When life gets too crazy, help comes from heaven. That's probably a blog post for another day.

But let's talk about video games for a minute. If I'm holding the controller, then I have the power and my character does what I want her to do. But in life, I don't have a magic controller that helps my characters to do the stuff I want them to do. I'm in charge of me, and that's it. I keep teaching my kids that they can't change other people, but they're in charge of how they respond. 

I guess this is where I finish the story about 34. By the end of the summer we'd learned some important lessons and decided to stay married and to keep working together. It had been the most difficult season of our entire lives. And then something terrible happened. One of our neighbors had a tragedy that made us realize how lucky we really were. One evening just after dark, the husband took his life. I don't know all the reasons, and I can't begin to understand the pain and grief. But I will always remember the reality check, from realizing that we were still alive. We still had time to fix all the stuff that was broken, and we still had health and strength and ... everything. We still had everything.

A few years later, eventually the timing was right and we were really lucky to add Baby 4 to our family. But it wasn't the way I'd originally planned. It was better. I thought I knew what was best, but I didn't. Isaiah 55:8-9 says it beautifully. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

If you're in a season like Bowser's Castle, don't be afraid. God wastes nothing. Every tear and every sorrow, every painful detail is actually working for your good. Maybe you've noticed that I'm telling the story about the summer when I was 34 an entire decade later. It wasn't a pretty story at the time. But all these years later I can look back and see God's hand in my life. I can see how a patient and wise Father in Heaven was guiding our family, and helping us in ways we couldn't even see.

I can also see now, how one of the lessons I needed to learn was to let go. I can't control all of the details, and thank goodness for that. It's not my job to fix things that aren't mine to fix. It's a very slow unraveling process, because I still have a tendency to try and "help" or control or manage or arrange. I still want to think I'm right all the time, or that my way is better. I am still learning to trust God, and to surrender my pride. This process takes time. If I used to be super controlling and now I'm less so, then that's progress. Yay for moving in the right direction.


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