We’ve bought into the idea that certainty exists and it’s only as far away from us as our ability to control things. But that is far from true, and it’s holding us back.
You and I have bought into a lie.
We’ve bought into the idea that certainty exists and it’s only as far away from us as our ability to control things. Once we’ve believed this, our minds will do anything necessary to regain a sense of control so we can attempt to eliminate all uncertainty. Of course, this never happens, and we eventually end up angry, resentful, anxious, or depressed.
We go through our lives convinced that the circumstances and variables around us each day are under our control. We either think that we are in control of them or that other people have them under control.
When we drive our vehicles, we believe that the car manufacturer is in control of the continuity of our vehicle. We trust them because we believe that they had things under control when they made our vehicle. So we cruise down the road without a second thought most of the time.
This mindset has gotten even worse with modern technology. With one glance at a device in my pocket, I can instantly know (or at least I think I know) what the weather is going to be like today, tomorrow, and for the next couple of weeks even. I can know what the weather is currently like and is going to be like on the other side of the world. That’s a level of control that no other generation has experienced.
If I want to see what the Eiffel tower looks like, all I have to do is pull out the device in my pocket and I can get a virtual tour within minutes. I can be anywhere in the world virtually and speak with someone anywhere in the world instantly. Because of this connectivity, I can influence people and outcomes all across the world instantly, giving me a level of perceived control that never existed before this generation.
Do you realize that no other generation in history has had the level of access and perceived control that we have today? Every other generation had to become OK with uncertainty. Before the industrial revolution, families depended on whether cycles to bring them crops in one way or another. Whether they were buying them from a local farmer or growing them themselves, food – and survival itself – depended on elements that were out of their control.
They ate what was available, did what was available, wore what was available, worked at jobs that were available, used the products and services that were available, and learned to deal with circumstances as they came.
But now we have options. Jobs are abundant, therefore we have control over what we do for a living. In a world where the only available job was farming, that wasn’t a concern. You farm. End of story. But in our society, it’s become a point of frustration and anxiety – and it’s all because we can now control our career path more than ever before.
We have options when it comes to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the people we interact with, and everything in between. We choose the products we use, the places we visit, the car we drive, and everything else.
It seems as if nothing is a given these days. The other day I went to the store to pick up some hair gel. Don’t judge me. As I was walking down the hair products isle scanning hundreds of products to find the men’s hair gel, I found the product I use but also found two or three other variations of the same product right next to it.
One said it was a light hold, another said medium, and a third said it was a high hold. Because so many men have been going through their day complaining about how their gel “hold“ is too high or low, right? But somewhere, there was a room full of people who decided that their customers didn’t have enough choices – they didn’t have enough control. So they created three variations of the same product.
This is a seemingly small example, but I think it serves as a metaphor for the rest of our culture. In a capitalistic society, when someone offers every product or service that we can reasonably use, the only other option for the economy to grow is for the individual markets to expand.
For example, once one person has offered one hair gel to men, the market has been satisfied. But the economy has not been satisfied, and the economy needs to grow. In order for the economy to grow, there must be competition, and where there is competition, there will be variation. It’s simple really, when people are competing and the need has been met already on a very basic level, the only option is to offer more variations of the same thing in order to reach more people and sell more products.
Because we live in such a society, our options will only expand. I’m no economist, so I can’t tell you where the future is headed and where a thriving capitalistic economy will go after 250 or 300 years, but I can tell you where it has left us currently. One of the perhaps unintended side effects of this sort of culture that is filled with options is the belief or perhaps misconception that we are in control.
Think about it. Let’s go back to the weather example. The only reason weather apps exist is so that the creator of the app or the brand that paid to have the app created can build an audience in order to drive revenue. This can be subtle, but it’s always true. It may be shocking to you, but very few things in life are done purely out of the goodness of someone’s heart with no expectation in return, at least not on a corporate level. Products and services such as mobile apps and websites and everything else you can think of costs money to produce or to provide. Because these things have a cost attached to them, it’s only natural for the producer of such things to think in terms of profitability.
I say all that to say, even the weather app on your phone is driven by our economy. It’s just the world we live in. Think about how many weather apps exist. Not only do you have the option to gain access to the future of the weather, which is incredible, but you also have access to seemingly countless sources that will tell you such information.
So now we not only know that it’s going to rain tomorrow, but we have to decide which weather app is the most trustworthy. And once we know it’s going to rain we have to decide which raincoat we’re going to trust enough to spend our money on. And if we have bought multiple raincoats over the years, we have to decide on any given rainy day which raincoat we are going to wear. We are literally inundated with choices, and those choices all tell our brains that we have control.
Do you see where this can get problematic? When I go through my day constantly being presented with choices in every single area of my life because, well, that’s just where our society and economy is that in America today, our brains naturally begin to adopt the belief that we are in control of every aspect of our lives.
Again, when you live in a world where you really don’t have a choice about what you do for a living, what you wear, or what you eat, life gets pretty simple. I imagine it’s very freeing.
There’s freedom in letting go. There’s a freedom in not having to control things. This is where God is leading us. He takes us there very gently and compassionately, but He’s taking us there nevertheless.
How can we have a life-giving relationship with God if we’re only willing to walk with Him to the extent that He abides by our expectations?
How can we allow Him to take us places we can only dream of if we’re trying to control the journey to only go where we can see and control?
It’s like walking with my kids. We could be in Orlando, Florida, walking down the road, holding hands, and heading to Disney World. They keep asking where we’re going, but I can’t possibly explain all of the wonder of Disney World to them by simply explaining it to them, and I know it will be better if it’s a surprise.
(Side note: If you have kids, you know that sometimes when you tell them you’re going somewhere awesome to try to hype them up for the journey, it can just as easily backfire. They’re likely to say they don’t want to go to the mountains for the weekend because they want to stay home and play. Rather than trying to explain every detail they’re not likely to understand, I’ll just ask them to trust me and get in the car. From there, they’ll have to see it for themselves.)
So we keep walking down the road towards Disney World, holding hands, when suddenly they see a playground. This playground is great, but it’s nothing compared to where we’re headed. If they’ll just keep walking with me, we’ll get to some place much better than the playground, but they’re not hearing it.
They start tugging at my arm trying to get me to go to the playground. Sure, as a father I would love for them to play and have fun, but I know what’s ahead, and it’s worth skipping the playground. Now imagine a rain storm is coming and we have to keep moving if we’re going to make it to Disney on time. Now going to the playground is not only taking away from what’s ahead, but it’s also dangerous. The playground in-and-of itself isn’t bad, but with the circumstances that I’m aware of as the father that my kids aren’t aware of, the playground is not a good choice. Do you see where this is going?
My kids, in their shortsightedness and desire to control the journey, are willing to stop walking with me and start trying to tug me in the direction they want to go despite the fact that it’s not good for them.
This is a picture of what we look like walking with God much of the time. We walk for a while, and then when things start feeling out of our control, we start pulling. This pulling can be counterproductive and bad for our wellbeing.
The same is true for our relationships with other people. We want one thing out of the relationship, and the other person wants another. What we’ve forgotten is that walking with anyone – be it God or anyone else – requires tension. There’s a conflict of wills happening at all times.
It’s only in our willingness to give up control and submit our will to someone else that we’re able to have a thriving relationship with them.
So next time you’re experiencing tension in your relationship with God or your relationship with another person, look for where control has lied to you. Look for where you’ve tried to maintain control when the only way to grow the relationship is to humbly submit yourself to one another.
When that becomes your lens through which you view your relationships, you’ll find that it becomes so much easier to diagnose issues, overcome tension, and grow in a healthy way.