Monday, July 25, 2016

Have You Gone From Having Control to Being Controlling?

            Pick up any magazine, self-help book, or watch television for only an hour, and the message is clear: Take control of your life! Take control of your finances! Take control of your retirement! Reading and watching all of that Take Control! can make you feel so inadequate and out-of-control that you’re driven to make instant amends and talk yourself into doing whatever it takes—right then and there—(or at least by the next day), to take control over whatever you’re not in control of. (Even if you’re not quite sure what that is.)

A Realistic Goal?
            While trying to get control over your life can be honorable, it isn’t always practical or realistic. World events cause your country’s stock market to crash, leaving you with only a piggy bank-full of retirement savings—and only a year away from retirement. (Can anyone say, “Remember the meltdown of 2008, from which we really haven’t yet recovered?”) Or the doctor calls to give you the dreaded cancer diagnosis. How did that happen when you were feeling so great!? There’s been a horrendous accident and a relative has tragically died. He was so young and energetic, how could something horrible like that happen to someone wonderful like him? You’ve discovered your happy marriage was only deemed “happy” by one spouse in the arrangement (you), and the other one has just unexpectedly sent you divorce papers, at your son’s engagement party, no less. (If you think I’m kidding, I assure you that these are all real life situations I’ve either been a part of or had intimate acquaintances or family members experience.)
            As much as we try to convince ourselves we’re in control over our lives, there’s a short little Bible verse correcting that erroneous thinking. It can be found in Proverbs 16:9 and it says: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (NKJV).
            So while you’re busy laboring and planning and planning and laboring, the world might be undoing, and God may be directing or re-directing. And, yes, He can certainly help you fulfill your plans. So, as much as we like to think we’re in control, ultimately, we probably aren’t, and whatever does turn out exactly the way we hoped and planned only turns out well because God made it happen or allowed it to happen. The world would call that “lucky”, but I call it blessed.

The Controlling Sex: Are you a high control woman?
            Men and women alike want to feel as though they’re in control. But within the last forty years, a lot of marketing real estate has been devoted to women taking more control over their lives.
            But control can insidiously evolve into controlling, and for some mysterious reason, women have a tendency to migrate into the latter behavior. I think they learn it from an early age—how to manipulate their fathers, and, by being allowed to do so by said fathers, learn how to manipulate men, and their husbands. Then, if they are blessed with children, watching over, nurturing, and keeping their children safe evolves into controlling them, too. If the women are perfectionist types, or Type A personalities, this controlling behavior gets even worse, and, honestly, drives everyone in the home nuts. What is it about the X chromosome that drives women to herd, control, badger, manipulate, and cajole?
            “But I’m not controlling!” you claim. “I make suggestions, in a loving way.” (And you make your suggestions using your most controlled voice tone and congenial smile, too, right?)
            Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how loving your tone, or how sweet your smile, that suggestion is going to sound like a must-do, an expected, and the receiver is going to feel manipulated.
            I remember a conversation between a mother and her son that my husband and I were privileged to be listeners to a couple of years ago. This dear, well-meaning friend of ours is what could be best described as the ultimate helicopter mom. And, man, does she know how to pilot her parenting helicopter!

            As her 20-year old son tried to express his thoughts, concerns, and desires to her, she kept interjecting these "Well, why don't you...," and "Maybe you could...," "Have you thought about...," "It might be better if...," and "What if...," statements. Well meaning statements, but misplaced and definitely untimely. As she inserted her opinions and "suggestions," his eyes glazed over in frustration and sadness, his hands clenched and unclenched, and his body stiffened, and then sagged. After inserting several "I know, Mom, but..." attempts that she either ignored or failed to notice, he finally gave up. Gave up not only on being heard but on being understand and respected. Her suggestions shut him down, and it was clear it wasn't the first time this kind of interaction had occurred. It was uncomfortable, frustrating, and sad to watch. Both my husband and I wanted to "ride in" verbally and rescue him. We tried on a couple of occasions to add encouraging and supportive comments to his thoughts, but my friend didn't get the hint. Standing next to him, she probably couldn't see the sad expression in his eyes, or witness his body language. But to my husband and me, who were standing in front of him, we witnessed the full-on effects of the "discussion," and it was heartbreaking.

           There are several passages about drippy wives in Scripture, too, and they’re not appealing. From Proverbs 21:19, we learn that: Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife. Then we zip over to Proverbs 25:24 and read: Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife. And the verse spoken to parents in the Book of Ephesians is one I often remind myself of, just before my mouth is primed to make a suggestion, or belt out my opinion of my child’s behavior, words, or attitude: “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.” Yes, sometimes a prompt, firm word is necessary and warranted, but more often, a tongue biting and well-time appointment with your Creator in your prayer closet, out of ear shot of your child, are the recipe for perfect rather than disastrous parenting results.

      On July 13-15, Nicole Unice and Karen Ehman, who are also moms, were interviewed on Family
Life Today radio. They’ve just published books about this subject, (She’s Got Issues and Letting Go of Control, respectively) and it’s worth listening to these interviews. I recommend you click on the links and listen to the broadcasts. While they’re chatting, see if you recognize any of your behaviors in their discussion. Be honest with yourself.

Day 1: “Motivated to Control”

Day 2: “Vying for Control”

Day 3: “Surrendering for Control”

 Self-examination time
            After you’ve listened to this interview, ask yourself some personality-dredging questions:

1. What kind of tone do I use with my husband when I speak to him? (Is it condescending, patronizing, or respectful and loving?) And beware: Your children are listening to you, and they will likely follow in your footsteps with their mouth, with both their spouses and their children.

2. What kind of tone do I use with my children when admonishing or teaching them? (Their ages may play a role here, but because they are people created in the image of God, just like you, they deserve love and respect, too, no matter what age they happen to be.)

3. What kind of facial expressions do I use when I speak to my husband or children? Does it convey love? Grace? Mercy? Irritation? Cynicism? Rejection? (I once heard a counselor suggest that as soon as you go into irritation mode, and chuck out some nasty commands or responses, that you sprint to the bathroom to check your facial expression in the mirror. It isn’t pretty. And that’s what the other person sees. Not only do they hear your words, they see your heart through your eyes and facial muscle contortions.)

4. Is the suggestion I’m dying to interject at the optimal moment in the conversation helpful or nagging? Loving or degrading? Am I giving my husband or children the benefit of the doubt? (I think parents and wives so often tend to assume the worst and don’t give our spouses or children the credit they deserve. After all, you’re not the only person in the house who came equipped with a brain. Just because they view the situation differently than you do doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right and they’re wrong. The danger of being prone to assuming the worst is your spouse or children eventually learn that no matter what they tell you, you won’t trust or believe them anyway, so what’s the point of trying. Essentially, they give up—on their relationship with you, and perhaps with God. You’ve pestered and irritated your way out of any sincere, loving relationship with them.)

5. Am I practicing good listening skills and really hearing their hearts? Or am I more interested in getting and having my own way, (which, of course, is THE BEST way to do things)?

6. What’s the most important outcome to this discussion—understanding, mutual respect, and love, or my ability to control the outcome, the situation, and the other person?

            These are just a half-dozen questions to ask when your control freak switch snaps on. I’m sure you could think of another half-dozen or more to add to them. But spend some time analyzing and practicing these, and see how much different—and hopefully better—your marriage and family communication dynamics become.

            Wanna hear a secret? I personally waffle between being controlling and being easy-going and compliant. I really can shift dramatically between a controlling Type A personality to an artsy, whatever-the-spirit-moves-me-to-do Type B. Must drive my husband and kids nuts, since they never know which mood I’m going to be assuming on a daily, or hourly basis. (Must be my ADD tendencies.)
            But I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the reasons I swing to controlling is that I never really felt like I had any control when I was a kid. I felt more like I was controlled. And when I had the opportunity to finally be in control of myself, or think I was, I swung completely out-of-control! I couldn’t modulate. I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately, the candy store I frequented had arsenic-laced treats. (Not literally, of course, but the effects on my spiritual, emotional, and physical life were nearly as deadly.)
            So for wives and moms out there, this is serious stuff indeed. Listen carefully to your spoken words, do an honest self-assessment, and see where your need to make some changes. Everyone—including you—will be happier for it!

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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