Read an Excerpt
Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible
By Shannon Popkin
Kregel PublicationsCopyright © 2017 Shannon Popkin
All rights reserved.
Path of a Control Girl
When my daughter was six, we moved into a new house. She insisted on having the small bedroom looking out over the driveway, rather than the larger one facing the pretty, wooded back yard. When I asked why, she said she wanted to be sure to see the garbage trucks when they came to pick up our trash. Years later, she asked why her brother got the "good room" facing the back yard. I chuckled and said, "Don't you remember, honey? You wanted to see the garbage trucks!"
In life, we make a lot of choices and decisions based on what we're hoping for. We take one path and not another because of some goal we have in mind. But often we're like a six-year-old enamored with garbage trucks. Our perspective is skewed, and our goals are underdeveloped.
What if there were Someone who could see up ahead who knew beforehand what was going to make us happy in the long run? What if he could be in charge of what path we took and where it all led?
Actually, there is Someone. His name is God.
If we ignore God and take our own path, we'll inevitably end up at a trash pile that has lost its appeal. But if we follow God and trust his eternal perspective, he'll lead us — eventually — to a room with a more fabulous view than our six-year-old minds could even fathom.
Lesson 1: A Rutted-Out Path
Read Proverbs 3:1–12
I have a gray video game controller in my basement that looks just like the other controllers, but it's not. It doesn't work.
I bought it at a garage sale and would have thrown it out, except that it solved a really big problem in our home. Our youngest son was two at the time, and whenever the older kids played video games, he would climb all over them — tugging, biting, scratching — doing whatever he could to pry the controllers from their hands. But the gray controller eliminated the problem. The big kids would settle him into a beanbag chair, place it in his chubby hands, and say, "There you go, buddy. There's your controller."
He was completely satisfied. He would jam his thumbs on the buttons, convinced that he was moving the little men on the screen. He was oblivious to the fact that not only was his controller broken, it wasn't even plugged in.
Even though I don't play video games, I'm a lot like my boy, Cade. My gaze is locked on the scenes playing out on the big screen of life — especially the ones that involve people I love — and it feels like I'm in control. I might not be pushing actual buttons, but I do have a strong sense that I am shaping the future. In fact, I feel responsible for making everything turn out right. Our Happy Ending rests in my hands.
This is why I call myself a Control Girl. I think I'm in control.
Now I wouldn't say I'm in control. I would say that God is. I've read the Bible. I know the stories of the flood, Lot's wife turning to salt, and the parting of the Red Sea. If you pointed to a story in the Bible and said, "See? God is in control," I would nod my head in agreement. Yes, I believe this. Completely.
But then, what do I do when my teen begins dating someone I disapprove of? Or my coworker is withholding information and making decisions without me? Or my husband shrugs off my concerns about the musty smell in the basement? With an eye on the future and where this all might lead, I suddenly morph into ... Control Girl. My voice gets louder and more intense. I become manipulative or direct. Like a kid who just lost a round on his video game, I lean forward with greater intensity and determination, convinced that it's all up to me to set things straight.
In these instances, my demeanor necessarily raises the question: Do I truly believe that God is in control? Or do I secretly think I am?
Also, what is God's reaction? Does he shrug off my insistence that it's all up to me? It's one thing to let a toddler carry on with a façade. But what if I'm the one clutching my illusion of control with sweaty, frantic hands? Does God just wag his head in disbelief and let me continue in my panicky frustration and angst?
No. Out of kindness, God leans down to dangle the cord of my teeny-weeny controller before me. Gently, he says, "See? Honey, you're not plugged in." God wants to free me of this control-burden, which was never mine to carry in the first place. God is in control; not me. He invites me to live like I believe this.
That's what these cord-dangling moments are: invitations.
Sometimes God uses something drastic — like a car crash, ongoing infertility, or a tornado — to expose my lack of control. But other times, he tucks his invitation into something smaller. Like a certain towel I encountered on the bathroom floor.
My Heart's Rut
One morning, I gave my middle schooler a crash course in bathroom etiquette. He had recently begun showering in our guest bathroom, and I didn't want guests tripping over damp towels and yesterday's jeans.
My training was thorough. After cheerfully giving clear instructions, I also required several walk-throughs that included hanging up a towel and throwing clothes in the hamper. I felt good about my constructive approach and was confident the bathroom would now be guest-ready at any moment.
But that evening, after everyone was in bed, I walked into the bathroom and stopped short. There were my son's sweaty soccer clothes and damp towel in a familiar little heap on the bathroom floor. I couldn't believe it. I stood over the defiant pile with my fists clenched and my jaw tightened, contemplating my next steps.
There is a certain path, deeply rutted in my heart. I've repented of this path many times, yet in that moment it seemed like the right way to go. It beckoned to me with logic, clear and strong, whispering, "He doesn't listen to you. He doesn't follow your instructions. What's going to happen to him if you do nothing? He's going to fail. You've got to do something! You've got to do something right now."
And so I set off down the path of the Control Girl.
Filling my lungs with air, I bellowed my son's name. I yelled it again and again until he appeared, blinking groggily, from his bedroom. I jabbed my finger in the direction of the sweaty heap. He hung his head, and I began bludgeoning him with my words. Repeatedly I pounded his dignity with my narrowed eyes and sneering attacks. I didn't touch him, but his expression told me that my words had squeezed his heart.
As I snarled, I dismissed several fleeting thoughts that I might regret this later. It felt good to berate him. He needed to learn to follow instructions. What sort of student or employee would he become if he didn't listen?
The sense of power was intoxicating, and I wanted more. I felt myself gaining control. Yes, I was making things right. I was in control. Now the world was a better place because I was ruling over the stinky piles of laundry littering my son's life. I would rule over my family's towels, and all would be good and right and peaceful.
But thirty minutes later nothing felt good. Nothing felt right. And nothing felt peaceful. My heart had deceived me. Once again, I had taken the path of the Control Girl.
I knelt at my son's bedside with tears of agonizing regret. Though he accepted my apology, I couldn't retract what I had said. I couldn't erase the look that had flickered across his face as my critical words cut in. I had followed my craving for control, and oh, what an ugly place it led me to.
Getting My Hooks In
It's hard for me to replay that for you. I generally like to keep my inner Control Girl well-cloaked. My tactical control moves are usually behind-closed-doors operations.
So why am I ushering you into this ugly scene from my bathroom? I do so because, while the whole world is peacefully sleeping, perhaps I'm not the only Control Girl still up, obsessing about my child's future or erupting over a towel.
Knowing how carefully I hide my own agenda, I figure there might be other secret Control Girl operations going on too. Maybe you and I have more in common than we'd like to admit. But even if you'd prefer to remain a closet Control Girl rather than going public the way I have, there's something you should know. Somebody leaked our secret to the press, quite awhile ago.
Way back in Genesis 3, after the first woman lost the very first battle for control, God made it public. He told Eve that she would be cursed with an insatiable desire to take control — to force the things that look so good and right in her eyes (whether fruit from a tree or a wet towel on the floor) into the hands of her loved ones. She would not only crave control, she would be convinced that she should take control. Eve and all of her daughters would be Control Girls.
How many times have I lived out Eve's curse, believing that it was good and right to take control? The towel incident is only one of many scars on my memory from times I've gotten my hooks in and hurt the people I love.
What an ugly, diminished version of myself I become when I try to take control into my own hands! But sometimes God's hands seem so far away. His throne seems to sit so far above where I stand, reigning over the little heap on the floor. Can God really be trusted with my Happy Ending? Does he even care about the things that concern me?
He can, and he does. In fact, it's because God cares that he leans down to dangle the cord of my teeny-weeny controller before me.
Out of kindness, God exposes my lack of control and personally invites me to trust him — with the towel lying at my feet, with the end of the story, and with everything in between.
Proverbs 3:5–6 says,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
This passage points me in the opposite direction of my Control Girl path. Rather than letting me lunge for control based on my limited perspective, God invites me to look up, surrender to him, and relish the fact that he's in control and I am not.
Friends, let's take a different path, shall we? Let's unclamp our sweaty hands from that illusion of control we've been gripping. Let's lay that broken, unplugged controller in the hands of the one who truly is in control: God.
* Take inventory of your life. Are you living as though you're in control or as though God is? What indications do you see?
* Read Proverbs 3:5–6 again, and list any contrast you see between these verses and the path of the Control Girl. Pray these verses over a situation you're tempted to control.
* List any cord-dangling moments God has used to expose your lack of control. Read Proverbs 3:11–12, and write "Proof that God loves me" above your list.
For Meditation: Proverbs 3:5–6
Rather than letting me continue in my illusion of control, God kindly exposes my lack of control and invites me to trust him instead. God, thank you for reminding me that you are in control so I don't have to be.
Lesson 2: Beneath Anger and Anxiety
Read Jeremiah 17:5–10
One summer, when my boys were little, they complained about bees in the basement. They'd holler, "Mommy, there's another bee flying around down here!" But rather than going down to check it out, I kept calling back, "OK, just leave it alone."
Did I think these bees would just find their way back outside? I'm not sure. I guess it was easiest to just ignore the problem and hope it went away.
Then the boys complained about dead bees near the window. Again, I kept saying, "OK, just leave them alone." I promised to clean the bees up once I was down there. The trouble was, I hardly ever went down to the basement. It was the kids' playroom, and they had complete jurisdiction. Weeks went by without me setting foot in the area of the reported bees.
Then one day, little Cole came upstairs and looked me in the eye. He said, "Mom, this bee thing is creeping me out. I think I hear bees buzzing in the wall."
"What?" I said, jumping up with instant alarm. "Show me!"
I was astounded at what I found. There were hundreds of bees lying dead along the windowsills. And Cole was right. There was definitely a buzzing sound in the wall — right next to where my boys were playing.
Within hours, a bee expert was telling me, "You called just in time. If those bees had burrowed through your drywall —" I didn't let him finish the sentence. I didn't want us all to have nightmares.
My Heart's Basement
Friends, our controlling natures are like a nest of bees burrowing through our hearts. The trouble is, we hardly ever make it down to the heart level. It's easier to ignore the warnings and pretend no problem exists. But just as the bees in my basement were never going to magically see themselves out, so it is with our basement-level control issues. It's dangerous to let the problem stay hidden, especially from ourselves.
So look yourself in the eye. Take a trip to your heart's basement. Do you hear any buzzing? Could there be a Control Girl lurking in your heart? If so, it's time to stop ignoring the warnings and confront the issue.
For many years, I thought my problem was anger. And clearly, as I demonstrated in lesson 1, I did (and do) struggle with anger. But even after reading books on anger, praying about it for years, and having friends hold me accountable, I couldn't be free of it.
I had a vague sense that there was some deeper problem causing me to erupt over something as silly as a towel on the bathroom floor, but I rarely went down to the basement of my heart to examine the problem.
Then one day, I heard Dee Brestin talking on the radio about the "sin beneath the sin." Dee said that we often fail to conquer a besetting sin because we attack the surface sin instead of the deeper, root sin.
At this point in my life, God had just begun to show me the ugliness of my control problem. For the first time, I realized that anger was my surface sin, and the "sin beneath the sin" was my desire for control. Not until I began linking these two — anger and control — did I get some traction with managing my anger.
Anger is easy for me to spot in myself. I know when I'm angry and when my anger is wrong. But it's much harder for me to see my heart's sinful bent on control. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
For me to know my heart, I need regular trips to the "basement." So when I feel anger rising, I've learned to probe deeper and ask, "OK, Shannon. What are you trying to control?" For me, dealing only with my anger, and never the deeper issue of control, was like sweeping up a few bees and ignoring the burrowed-in hive.
Maybe you can relate to my ongoing anger struggle. Perhaps you have towel stories of your own. If so, as you work through this book, start keeping a journal of angry outbursts, and consider whether these indicate a deeper struggle with control. When you feel anger rising, ask yourself:
What am I trying to control?
Am I angry because I've lost control of someone or something?
Look for connections and record them.
Perhaps you are someone who never gets angry. Maybe you would never raise your voice or throw a fit over a discarded towel. You don't struggle with anger; it's just not something you do.
Oh, how I've wished I could be like you. You seem so sweet and calm and perfect. But my friends who are like you — the ones who rarely get angry — tell me that they often struggle with something equally difficult: anxiety.
Instead of yelling and ranting behind closed doors, they're pacing and fretting. Or they're obsessing about germ-free kitchens and safety locks. In the same way that I lose control of my anger, they lose control of their fear. But the deeper "sin beneath the sin" causing the rise of anxiety is the same: control.
The day I spoke for Laura's moms group was the first day she had ever placed her ten-month-old in the church's childcare. She had never left him with anyone but her husband or mom, and when she sat down at the beginning of the meeting, she literally felt panic rising within her.
She wanted to spring from her chair, bolt to the nursery, and snatch him back into the safety of her arms. But something held her back. She had a gentle sense that the Lord wanted her to hear something that day. And that's when I got up to speak on control.
As I split open my private world and shared several incriminating Control Girl tales, Laura laughed nervously, secretly identifying. She had just endured the isolation of moving to a new town, a complicated pregnancy and birthing experience, and a rough recovery. In addition, her baby suffered from a litany of allergies plus feeding and sleep issues.
Excerpted from Control Girl by Shannon Popkin. Copyright © 2017 Shannon Popkin. Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.