Out of Control
After my dad died, someone in my life suggested I read a book called On Grief and Grieving. I was reading a few days ago when I ran across a section that resonated with me called “Control”. In it, the authors talk about how many of us, when our loved ones are sick or aging, work so diligently to make sure they are getting the best care possible. We are hyper vigilant, double checking medications, putting safeguards in place, trying to do everything in our power (and more) to make sure all is done as well as possible to preserve life and give comfort.
And that hyper vigilance can continue if our loved one dies. We try to get everything in order, worry and fuss over funeral arrangements, even fight with other survivors over how things should be done. And, we may tell ourselves that what we are doing is out of respect for our loved ones. But often the real reason we busy ourselves with worry is this: getting anxious and trying to be in control of everything and attend to every detail–even though it is aggravating and upsetting and stressful–is all much easier than feeling the sadness and loss that is really underneath. And trying to control everything is much easier than coming to terms with the facts that we are not in control and that, most of the time, we can’t do anything to prevent tragedy or death or loss.
In the last few years, I have definitely been able to relate to this need for control. I tried in vain to be in control of every aspect of my father’s end of life care. And the day he died, I spent half of my time crying and half my time trying to figure out his funeral arrangements and financial matters. By the third day, I realized I had run out of things to try to control!
Now that a month has passed since my father’s death, I have been able to let myself just feel the sadness of his loss. But I can also feel my worries and anxieties for my dad shifting to other people in my life. Last week, I got upset over the fragile health of another loved one, and I found myself again trying to control everything possible, while being sick with worry over how little I can actually control.
One night last week, because of my anxieties and a little lingering jetlag, I found myself unable to sleep. So I decided to listen to a podcast of a sermon from a nearby church. I don’t actually remember what the sermon was about. All I remember was that the preacher read Psalm 139. And as I heard the words, I felt a peace starting to thaw the icy, frustrated control freak that I was becoming again.
The psalm reminded me that I don’t have to be in control because there is an eternal God who has been with my loved one since the moment of her conception, watching over her, loving her, knowing each day of her life before it is lived. And there is nothing that can happen to her and nowhere she can go where God will not be. So even when I cannot be there, when I cannot hold her hand or make sure she doesn’t feel alone, even when I can’t control anything about her health or life or death, I have faith that she is enveloped in an eternal presence that will never leave her. And so I can let go of that need for control just a little bit, knowing that she is taken care of in the way that is most important.
I want to invite you to feel some of that peace as well. If there is someone in your life who is really struggling, someone you worry about a lot, I invite you to think of that person now. It might even be yourself. And I want you to pray this psalm for that person.
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.