Things won’t go your way.
This is one of those rare phrases which applies to literally every human on the face of the planet. And for many of us, this is good reason to worry.
To stress out.
To become anxious.
For many of us, myself included, situations arise in our lives which are out of our control and these breed a myriad of responses. Some of us respond to the unmanageability of our lives in healthy ways, while others respond in unhealthy ways.
Galatians 5 lists a description of the Fruit of the Spirit, one of which is Self-Control. After years of having this list memorized and held in a rote category in my brain, something about it finally clicked. God instructs us to have self-control.
Because the painfully obvious fact is, we cannot control those other things. We cannot control diseases or jobs or world events, or family drama. But there is one area which we do have control over: Our own responses to all of these things.
My dad always tells me that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.
To me, this maxim always seemed rather passive; that if I wanted things to go as I wanted, I had to get out and make them happen. But in reality, there is often (always?) a massive disconnect between what I want to happen, or how I want things to go…and the actual outcome.
This longing to control the world, others, or anything else which is inherently out of our control results in a lot of angst and fear. There are a lot of what-ifs which can plague our minds if we let them, rather than concerning ourselves with our own personal reactions to people and events.
I recently began reading the acclaimed book by Townsend and Cloud, Boundaries, which has helped straighten out what things are within and outside of our responsibility. For instance, the fact that your boss parties, sleeps around, and wastes money on fruitless things is completely our of your control and out of your realm of responsibility. But what IS in your control is how you respond, how you love him, and whether or not you run your lips gossiping about him behind his back.
Think of it like a yard of a house. You are responsible for the lawn, flowers, and weeds inside the bounds of your fence, and your neighbor is responsible for those in hers. It is not your duty to try to mow her lawn for her or plant flowers in her soil. Nor is it acceptable for her weeds to spill over into your yard. You are responsible only for what is in your own yard, and this is truly the only thing you can really control anyway.
Essentially, the only thing you can really control in this world is what goes on within the boundaries of your own person. You can control your thoughts, the things you fill your mind with, the things you eat and what you do with your body. These things are within your control and within your boundaries of control.
With this in mind, it therefore becomes wrong to try to control things which are outside of your boundaries, i.e. the actions or responses of others. Not only is it wrong, but it is the root of much of our angst, worry and stress. That’s why the Bible describes self-control as virtuous. It’s much easier said than done, but you can control your response to the world and your own actions.
One of the creeds in the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.” When we see our lives as unmanageable and out of our control, this often leads to a panic of sorts, often dealt with through addictions like drinking, drugs, eating disorders, pornography, or anything else that makes us feel like we have some sort of control.
AA helps people understand that the future is opaque for everyone: It is unknown and mysterious. We cannot plan for it per se, but we can plan to control our own reactions to whatever happens. And this helps ease the angst of the unknown.
Leonardo da Vinci said “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself,” yet this is all we really do have control over.
You can choose to respond to your children with anger or grace, but you cannot control their actions.
You can respond to your unjust boss with love or malice and gossip, but you cannot control her management style.
Want to let go of anxiety, stress and fear? Stop trying to control the world and start trying to control yourself. It’s not easy, but coming to understand the virtue of self-control as more than simply not reaching for that last slice of pizza has helped me understand my own limitations and remove some of the stress of life.
May we be people who know our own boundaries. May we come to have control over that for which we are responsible, and let go of the things which are out of our control. May we abide by the Spirit, who enables us to open up our palms which often hold too tightly the actions of others and the events of the world.