You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
In the quote above, St. Augustine writes about an aspect of human life with which I am well acquainted: a restless heart. Plainly stated, a restless heart is one that does not trust God. Restlessness is an indication that you’ve not given him authority over every aspect of your life. There’s a direct correlation between a pressing need to manage or manipulate some (or all) of the events and details of your life (or someone else’s life) and an inability to acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Master. I can tell you from personal experience that the harder you try to maintain (or gain) control the more restless you will become.
Please hear me out: I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with being thoughtful and reliable and acting responsibly in circumstances in which you are charged with oversight. What I am addressing is behavior which I will tactfully describe as exhibiting an “overly developed” sense of responsibility. Might this term be used to describe you?
A person with an overly developed sense of responsibility tends to think that if they don’t take charge of something it won’t get done; or, more to the point, that it won’t be done right. It’s not that they think they can do things better than everyone else. More often than not, they just want to steer events toward an outcome they know they can live with. This is what it means for them that something is done “right.” Such a person makes it their business to have a directing hand in every thing that in some way effects their life, or the lives of those they care about. Is this now starting to sound familiar?
What such behavior reveals is that if you need this kind of control you don’t trust God with the details; you don’t believe he can do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:19) or that in all things he works for good (Romans 8:28). You’ve decided it’s up you to manage, personally, anything that has to do with your life. Yet, this deeply rooted need for control is ultimately a spiritual problem. And, until you begin to trust the Lord with everything that has to do with your life, your heart will be restless. So no matter how strongly you declare your faith in Jesus, restlessness – which is characterized by a continuing lack of peace, joy and contentment – will always give you away.
Everyone who has an “overly developed” sense of responsibility has a reason for why they do. Usually it has something to do with how they were raised or a particular event or trauma that left them feeling vulnerable and determined to find a way to exert more control over their life. Control is all about a need to feel powerful. This has certainly been true for me.
But for the Christian, there is no dressing-up this irresistible impulse to control or manipulate events or people. It isn’t just a personality quirk. It won’t do to excuse it by pointing out the psychological factors that led to such behavior. Seeking to have a directing hand in anything that in some way effects one’s life is a continuing statement of unbelief, regardless of the origin of this need. And the only remedy is to start turning over control of the aspects of one’s life to Jesus.
But beware: he won’t be satisfied with simply an item here and a portion there; he will call you to relinquish everything. But this is actually good news because as you start to turn over more and more of your life to Jesus you will become, more and more, the joyful and spiritually empowered person God created you to be. (Just ask my husband who is watching this unfold in my life.)
For the next month or so I will be writing about why Jesus wants us to relinquish everything and why losing control is the best thing that could ever happen to us. I’ll be addressing issues such as why the world values self-reliance over Christ-reliance, how to know the difference between relinquishing and being irresponsible, and how Jesus calls us to turn over to him even our talents and virtues.
In case you’re wondering how I came up with the title, let me explain my train of thought: Losing something often means one has been forgetful or careless. But in the spiritual life we need to forget – or unlearn – how to be burdened with care for the details of our lives. In fact, the apostle Paul charges us to be “careful for nothing,” which is another way of saying, “stop trying to control everything.” (Philippians 4:6 KJV) Being without care means one has been unburdened. God wants to unburden us of what rightfully belongs to him – responsibility for our lives. He wants us to lose control.
Losing control doesn’t take place overnight. It is a continuing process that is unsettling at times; but is ultimately a freeing one. I hope you will join me on this exploration of what it means to give Jesus authority over your life.
Next week: Why do we need a Savior?