Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Control and Surrender, Part 1

I gave a retreat this past weekend, my first, and my writing for this has been such a journey, it seemed worthy of including here.  It certainly has been a part of my wandering in circles around my personal Jericho.

I try to live my life in a prayer of Mary’s Fiat – Let it be done to me according to your will. But sometimes I feel like what God actually heard was something more along the lines of, “Bring it on.”

As mothers, we have so much to manage and keep going. Children to teach, the family to feed, a husband to keep up a relationship with, school and church work, our “real” jobs. Keeping control seems like the only logical way to do that. But leaning on our ability to control things is slippery and deceptive. The control we exercise can be taken from our hands at any moment. So we need to find a way to keep a responsible grip on the management of our families and jobs while balancing that with surrender to God’s guidance and will, and trust... that in one of those moments when control is taken away entirely - we are still securely in His hands.

Sundays are always my hardest day. Between Jay’s masses, and trying to get ready for another week while keeping everyone fed and cleaned up for mass I am left with little patience and always find myself thinking that if I just planned it well enough and executed it perfectly then the day would go smoothly. I grasp at control and scribble down a list of things to finish up that day and reminders for next Sunday. I berate myself and think that I could bring peace to my family if I just had enough control over the day. But in spite of any elaborate planning I do, Sundays slide from my grasp - sometimes its a sick child, a busy Saturday that leaves me playing catch up, my own exhaustion, or even just setting aside what needs to be done for time with family. I simply cannot control all of the variables and get a hold on Sunday.

I’m not sure if control brings peace or just the illusion of peace. Sometimes I think I would settle for an illusion of peace!

There are two moms I know: One is always in control. Her home runs like clockwork, her kids never eat sugar cereal while being rushed out the door in the morning. And yet her children are always shuffled out of the way to keep things running smoothly.

Another has told me smilingly that she never feels overwhelmed. She has several children, and she enjoys them all greatly, making time for them as much as possible. She is not what I would call out of control, but her grasp on it seems to be a little looser.

So it occurred to me one day, that maybe this overwhelmed, scrambled existence is where I am supposed to be right now. Maybe this, in itself, is the medicine my soul needs to teach me to really lean on God’s control instead of my own. Because really, when it comes down to it, how much do we really have control of? Our lives can change in a moment.

What is the difference between being out of control and living a life of surrender?

Surely there is a difference. We mothers have to do our due diligence in caring for our family and not just toss in the towel and quit trying. But I have to have that continual reminder that it is not my will but His that must be done. Frustration with this does not equal lack of surrender.

Preparing for this retreat has been an exercise in surrender in itself for me. Just as I began to work on it, I found myself in the throws of morning sickness, then Jay’s hand injury ( he lost a portion of a finger in a work accident) tossed our life into an uproar, then a series of sicknesses in my kids that kept my hands busy with laundry and my lap full at all times. Truly, my time was not my own and I couldn’t work on it at all. I had to chuckle and God’s sense of humor, and wished that maybe I had been led to a different topic for the retreat - then I wouldn’t be getting this tough lesson.

But it wasn’t until last weekend that it really came to a head in our household. For months, I have been diligently following Dave Ramsey’s financial principles, trying to get a working budget and get us out of debt and living within our means. Every penny is spent on paper before the month begins. I made progress for several months, even got some bills paid off. But the business Jay works for is struggling. The paychecks have been coming, but they have been getting later and later. Finally, this past week, we went a whole week without a paycheck. Between that and the mounting medical bills (For Jay's hand injury and Molly's hospitalization) I just completely fell apart. I had one of those moments of staring over a cliff, seeing the darkness that was out there without faith, but feeling like my best efforts had failed me entirely. I wasn’t chuckling at God’s sense of humor anymore. I was angry and tired and very tempted to despair.

If I had worked so hard to control all of our money, but it really wasn’t in my control at all anyway, what was the point? Just like cleaning the kitchen only to come back in and find it wrecked entirely... it seemed like it was all futile. Still, as we will go over in part 2, I remembered that really Holy people have just kept doing their jobs in the face of loss of control. But how is it possible to do that without falling over that cliff and succumbing to despair when over and over you see your hard work crumble like a sandcastle getting hit by a wave?

After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I realized that it really is the outcome that matters, but not the outcome I was looking at.

My work is to be a good steward of my money, to love and teach my children, to love and encourage my husband, to care for our belongings and fill our home with love.

But the outcome of those things - the real goal I am aiming for is not:
  • a balanced bank account
  • perfect children
  • a husband whose needs are always met
  • a clean home with dinner on the table, laundry in the drawers, and a place for everything.

My real goal is to love God and to bring my children and husband closer to Him as well. My real goal is Heaven and an eternity with Him. That is the outcome that matters. The rest of it is the means that will help me to get there.

This reminded me of the story of the Man and the Rock.  I found a version and want to share that with you now:

Pushing Against The Rock - Author Unknown

There once was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared to him.

The Lord told him He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock explaining that he was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sunup to sundown; his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man showed signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture - placing thoughts in the man's mind, such as ``Why kill yourself over this?, you're never going to move it!'' or ``Boy, you've been at it a long time and you haven't even scratched the surface!'' etc. giving the man the impression the task was impossible and the man was an unworthy servant because he wasn't moving the massive stone.

These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. ``Why kill myself?'' he thought. ``I'll just put in my time putting forth just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.'' And this he did or at least planned on doing until, one day, he decided to take his troubles to the Lord.

``Lord,'' he said, ``I have labored hard and long in Your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which You have asked of me. Yet after all this time, I have not even budged that rock even half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?''

To this the Lord responded compassionately, ``My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. At least not by yourself. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed, ready to quit. But is this really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. Yet still, you haven't succeeded in moving the rock; and you come to Me now with a heavy heart and your strength spent. I, my friend will move the rock. Your calling was to be obedient and push, and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom, and this you have done.''


  1. And in case you want to make this a bit of a personal retreat, I will include here the journalling questions that we spent some time writing and talking about.

    Does control bring peace or just the illusion of peace?
    What is the difference between being out of control and living a life of surrender?
    What areas of my life are important to me to keep full control of?
    Do I gauge my worth by the amount of control I have in my life at a certain time?

  2. I think of Dory in Nemo:

    "♪Keep swimming, keep swimming♫"

    Why does it take us so long to realize it's not WHAT we do, but what is in our hearts while we do it?

    Wish I had been there!