I remember playing tug of war at summer camp one year with a pit of mud dividing two teams. The muscles in my arms and legs were pushed to the limit as I braced against the grass and clung to the rope. Then someone fell into the mud pit and our whole team fell forward. My muscles were shaking when I released the rope and hit the ground. It felt good to be relieved of the battle.
That’s what I’m learning about control in my life; how tightly I have held onto things I have no control over. I have fallen many times only to get back into my tug of war. I have never called myself a control freak but as I turn 48 I’m beginning to find out how much of my life I have tried to control. The next few blogs are about those lessons. I am honest in my struggles because I hope to encourage you. I would like to share with you how I am learning to let go and instead fall into the arms of my very powerful and good God.
Part 1: The façade.
Maintain “control” even when it is clearly lost, and never, ever cry.
This is a true story with more witness’s than I would like to admit. I hate crying in front of people. During emotional movie scenes or while someone is telling me something sad, the muscles in my neck will ache or my nose will suddenly begin leaking. (I learned recently withheld tears go back through the sinus cavity and can come out your nose. Lovely). When emotional, I keep Kleenex nearby not to dab at my eyes, but to dab at my nose. If I experience a session of ugly crying in the presence of other humans, it’s embarrassing to me. This is exactly what happened one Sunday morning a couple of years ago.
I was getting ready to drive to the church where I worked at the time. After 20 minutes with coffee and quiet on the back patio, my husband and I headed inside. Kirk checked on our 13-year-old and found they had apparently left sometime in the night and hadn’t returned. I had 20 minutes before I needed to leave for work. Kirk assured me he could look for them alone, and I could go to work. I was fine while driving to work and fine getting started on things at the church. Everyone was cheery and so was I. It wasn’t the first time our teen had done something like this. An hour ticked by, still no word from Kirk. A little worry began to creep into my heart. I told myself I had to learn to function in spite of the troubling things that had been going on. It had been a week of troubling events. Actually it had been 8 years of troubling events. I finished designing some brochures I had to print before the service. Our pastor was in his office. All the staff members were busy with their own things.
My cell phone rang. It was Kirk. The missing teen was now home. He began to tell me of some very troubling things he had discovered. At first I was ok, but then I could feel myself beginning to tremble. Kirk was telling me more but I couldn’t deal with it any longer. A surging emotion welled up inside. I look at my computer screen. The printer dialogue was flashing a bright blue box labeled “print”.
I still needed to push that button to get the brochures going. It was 15 minutes before service. I had responsibilities, but I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life at the moment. I shakily told Kirk I had to go. One of my co-workers must have heard something in my voice because she walked toward my cubicle, “are you ok Tina?”
Then it came. I could not stop it. Sobs so heavy and loud they took me physically down. My head and arms came to rest on my desk and I shook and cried like I hadn’t cried in years. My whole body was shaking. My friends and co-workers came rushing to my side. I heard my pastor behind me on the phone. Kirk had called the church, worried, and accidentally dialed the pastors cell phone number. My friends each rested a hand on my back and prayed. I don’t know what they said but it was beautiful. They didn’t ask what had happened. They knew I was in pain. They prayed.
Inside, I was comforted but I was also mortified. I felt guilty at having disrupted the pastor so close to service. I felt embarrassed at having chosen this moment to be so emotional. I felt irresponsible at having so much to do before church began. I lifted my tear-blurred eyes to my computer screen before my friends had even said “amen”. The blue “print” tab still flashed. I reached a shaky hand for the computer mouse and hovered over the button. Click. The printer began. Then I wiped under my eyes, which I’m sure had mascara pooled under them. “Thank you…sorry…I’m good…thanks.” Then I walked to the printer and grabbed brochures to start cutting them. Two of my friends stopped me. “Go home. We will cut them.” It took some convincing but I finally took the advice and left for home.
I look back on that day, amazed at how strongly I gripped onto control. Even at the height of emotion I had to show I was still in control. I could still print brochures. I could still function. I was completely fine. But no amount of pushing “print” or using the cutting board would convince my friends. I was experiencing an event out of my control and it was ok that I wasn’t ok, that I wasn’t in “control”. It was time to allow my friends to care for me.
Ever since the day when I almost took my own life in 2013, I have been learning these lessons about what I had to let go in order to survive. I had to release the idea that I could shape and control my life to look a certain way. In 2013 my friends had no idea what I was planning. Now my emotions were on raw display. The difference was they were able to help this time.
For a stubbornly independent, controlled person, it’s more difficult to let people take care of me then it is for me to take care of others. When I try to control things I cannot control, it’s exhausting. It is exhausting is because I’m not actually in control; I’m just maintaining the appearance of control.
A façade of control blocks the view of those who are meant to help me. It takes humility to be vulnerable enough to bring down the façade and to live in genuine relationships. Once I began to be vulnerable I found others who were suffering in similar ways and we were able to comfort each other. The more I let go of the things that I am not meant to be holding, the more peace and joy I have been free to embrace.
There is no way around the reality that we will all face days we cannot handle. You are not alone. Let the rope go, fall to the ground and trust that God has the rope securely in his hands.
Author of The Common Hours