I’m walking out of Safeway after a long day at work and feel a strange sensation on the bottom of my shoe, like I’ve stepped in something sticky and at the same time something cold squeezes between my toes. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Lifting my shoe, I see a round metal circle that was the base of something long and sharp. I had stepped on a nail. But I feel no pain. The nail hasn’t pierced my foot; it has slipped perfectly in between two toes. I survived the Safeway sidewalk of 2022 and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.
But it sent me spiraling. How did this happen? What could have been? If I had only stepped an inch forward, I would have been like Marv from the Wet Bandits. Or what if I had taken longer at the register and someone else had walked out in the same spot?
Then, the spiral got faster and tighter, Tom Brady-style. How many moments like this have happened, and I’m simply not aware of it?
- Would I have been in that highway wreck if I had left 5 minutes earlier?
- When choosing between colleges, what if I had picked the other one? Would I have never met my wife, and she got with someone else? (I want to punch that guy.)
- In college, my mom was in the homecoming pageant and decided between two guys to be her escort and randomly picked the man who would become my dad. What if she had selected the other guy? Would I be here? My kids? Would I have never tasted coffee or watched the Cubs win the World Series??!! Is everything random?? Is everything chaos??! Should I just stay at home and eat homemade nachos and buy a bunch of sweatpants and cats??!!
See, I told you. It was a spiral. But it reminded me of something vital. Something I constantly forget. It put me back in my proper place, with my small brain and limited knowledge. It reminded me that…
I am not in control.
The Master of My Fate
It feels nice, thinking you are in control. You can keep bad things from happening, alleviate stress, and make sure there are never any surprises.
It’s not just you and me. There is deeply rooted, human desire to control.
In the ancient Genesis narrative, the Creator places humans in a setting and gives them a role. The setting was a beautifully whole garden in which all needs were provided for. The role was to be human and tend to the garden.
But there was another role. This role was filled with all knowledge and wisdom, and control. The role of God. The two humans wanted more than their measly role and rebelled, longing to have a piece of this immense power.
And the story has gone on and on.
Kids long to be adults because adults get to stay up late and make all the rules. Adults want to make more money because more money means more control and freedom. We want greater influence and power because then we can make decisions and do what we want.
But control begets more control. And we become less human as we:
- Obsess over getting the results we expect and fantasize about.
- Focus on the future, instead of enjoying the present.
- Wear people out with critique.
- Push our agenda onto others.
- Believe the world revolves around us.
- Manipulate and coerce others.
- Offer unsolicited advice.
- Assume our way, our perspective, our theology, our tribe is the correct one.
It’s a slow spiral leading us away from our humanity. We become something we were never meant to be.
The Gift of Not Being God
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from a fictional character in the movie, “Rudy.” In disillusionment, Rudy seeks counsel from a priest named Father Cavanaugh, who says…
“Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.” Father Cavanaugh.
It’s such a simple truth that we can miss the power. There is a role of God. Whether you are agnostic or an atheist, there is no denying that life has sprung from somewhere. This life expands and moves and is sustained by a power.
It doesn’t take much reflection or deep thought to then realize — I am not that power. I didn’t create my own existence. I can’t control the weather. I can’t control other people. I don’t know when or how I will die. I can’t will the Cubs to win another World Series.
To realize this truth is a gift. You have not been given the responsibility to control life. It’s not on you.
You can take a breath and let go.
You are here by a miracle. Somehow, your mother and father met each other and cells and synapses formed. Somehow, you are still alive. Out of the infinite possibilities and random occurrences of existence, you are breathing in this moment. You live where you live and work where you work and look the way you look. Why? I don’t know. That’s not my role to know.
There is a beauty and freedom when you receive this gift. It gives you permission to let go and embrace what is directly in front of you. You have been given this moment. You have been given these people. And the miracle of life is teeming around you.
Imagine the sanity this could bring to your life, realizing that so much of your existence is beyond your control, so why worry about it? Imagine how present and relaxed you could be with others when you realize you have not been charged with controlling them.
Imagine letting go of control and embracing the gift of life that is in front of you at this moment.
But Letting Go Doesn’t Mean This
It does NOT MEAN:
- Not Caring (“he really let himself go… look at those cats and sweatpants.”)
- Disengaging from life and others.
- Avoiding conflict or difficulty or hard things.
- Giving up or having no ambition.
- Engaging in nightly “glaucoma medicine” or other substances that remove you from reality.
But It Does Mean This
It means focusing on what you can control and dropping the things you cannot.
Jesus tells a beautiful story we’ve all heard. A Samaritan man walks along a path — living his normal life. On this path, right in front of him, is a man who desperately needs help. He’s been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. And, oh yeah, he’s a part of a different tribe, one the Samaritan wouldn’t typically associate with.
But this man realizes he can do something. He has the choice of how to respond. It is his RESPONSIBILITY. So, he lifts him up, brings him to a place of aid, and pays for a place where he can stay and get better.
Of course, he can’t control what happens to this man — his future health and long-term recovery. He can’t rescue EVERY person on EVERY path. But he can do something directly in front of him.
It highlights this fascinating paradox for every one of us: we are not God, so we can’t control the world, but this God has given us control over some things. And apparently, it matters how we respond to these things.
So, we hold the tension.
We can’t make our kids be good people or marry the person we like or pursue the career we want or choose our religion or path. BUT. We can pay attention to them more than our phones and show them a love without conditions and show interest in their interests and play soccer with them and be patient with them.
We can’t decide how long we will live or if we’ll get cancer or if an unexpected tragedy will befall. BUT. We can try to live fully each day and strive for physical, emotional, and mental health and create memories with our loved ones now.
We can’t control others do, but we can control ourselves.
We can’t control global politics, but we can make a difference in our local community.
We can’t control every circumstance, but we can control our internal response to every circumstance.
Restored sanity through restored order.
Our existence is a miracle, but it’s also wild and scary. Instead of spiraling in the randomness or desperately trying to control it…
May we let go
And embrace what’s directly in front of us.