Notes from the Vicar of Grace

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Hey All--


From time to time someone will tell me that I can be pretty "controlling."  Not once have I thought this was a word of praise!  I mask this tendency all the time, and with some conscious effort.  I try to look relaxed (even unshaven!), and I try to pretend that I'm open to anything.  Honestly, I don't really want to be seen as some kind of control freak--but it's a funny, human dilemma: I do want to be in control.  Driving the big Grace Van (now nicknamed "Wherd") through freeway traffic loaded with other people's children is a great time to be "in control" and even controlling.  Trying to manipulate an outcome, shape my children's decisions or change someone's mind--well, then it's easy to let my hopes become a form of unwanted control.

Recently I was told that I was painfully controlling simply because other people disagreed strongly about a decision I made.  I had to make some kind of decision, made that choice--and we disagreed.  Sure, I had some control over my decision, but no control over how others would experience it, and live it out.  Even at our most controlling, even when we have some degree of control over pieces and parts of our lives--it is small, and fleeting, and hardly satisfying.   The simple truth of being who we are is that we do want some control.  We want things, lives, loves, people to turn out a certain way.  We have ideas about what's best--or at least how things could be better.  "If I were the King of Town . . . "  Right.  If I were, then things would be different.  To say we don't want some control is to be less than honest and less than human.  Just to put a fine, sharp edge on this human business, we are surrounded by self-help formulas and faith stories that tell us, teach us, inspire us to "let go."  Yeah.  Right.

So I've thought a lot about this over the last few weeks.  At Grace we have lately been forced--literally--to say good-bye to two people we love and cherish.  We have been forced to let go, and if we were in control we would have created different outcomes.  Facing the reality of death, we want control.  And with that control we would orchestrate long, fulfilled lives and an easy, sleepy letting go of life when the right time comes.  Of course we would do that, if we could.  And we can't.  Even within my own body I can't control how my cells will shape and change and grow.  I can't even for one moment change the direction of my blood flow or control my need for oxygen. 

So "controlling" is tremendously limited, and in the face of that limitation I am often tempted to try harder; I'll try to exert my control over the little stuff, the people within my reach.  There is, though, another way.  Recognizing my lack of real control can open me up to the remarkable mystery of human life--and my life.  When I can recognize all the remarkable life and lives lived beyond my reach, and my control, then I'm open to a true sense of awe and wonder.  "Wow" becomes far more possible.  Humility, too.

Was Jesus controlling?  Was he in control?  Many who knew him, who were caught in the flow of his life, were amazed at his reach: "Who is this man, that even the wind and sea would obey him?"  And not everyone welcomed that reach: "Who gave him the authority to forgive?  Only God can forgive!"  What's clear, even from a simple, objective review of his life story, is that he did not have control over his own end, or how he would be received.  What he had was the truth of his own life, lived without control.  He released control, or let it slip through his open hands. That, it seems, was all he needed.  It was everything he needed.  That could be true for us, too.

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