When You Can’t Control Everything

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When life gives you more than you can stand, kneel. – Unknown

I was speaking to a friend who confided in me about a house he lost a few years ago. He had been living in an area of the country hard-hit with precipitously dropping real estate prices and his mortgage company called the loan. Even though he was gainfully employed, regularly balanced his checkbook, put money aside for savings and had little debt, he certainly couldn’t pay off his mortgage.

This guy has always been Mr. Responsible. He checks everything twice, researches just about every move he makes and follows every rule. He may even come across as a little uptight. He probably isn’t the first person invited to a party but he is the first guy his friends call when they really need help.

Losing his house was an incredibly difficult event for him. He felt really vulnerable, as if he had lost control over his life. He summed it up when he said, “I did everything right and I still got hosed.” He sure did. The latest economic crisis came along and “hosed” a number of people who had done everything right.

Unfortunately my friend is still plagued by self-blame about losing his home. He has become obsessed about his finances and tries not to miss any detail that might make him vulnerable again. He admits that the whole situation has made him “a little mental”.

There are those people who believe they have control over their lives and that as long as they do everything right they will be safe. These people are called Control Freaks – and I am one. Control Freaks have some great attributes. We are really reliable, responsible, we get a lot of things done and we’re great at anticipating and planning ahead. We feel empowered when we feel like we have control over our lives.

This mentality can be taken to extremes. Even though I know that I don’t actually have control over everything, I’m pretty bad at handling things that are out of my control. I can wind up blaming or judging myself for something over which I had no control, which just adds pain to an already painful situation. I can also blame others and that will eventually alienate them.

In some cases, the cause of a hardship is clear. My friend may have been financially irresponsible, taken huge risks, ignored warning signs and purchased a home knowing he couldn’t afford it. As upsetting as it may have been to lose his home in those circumstances, the situation would have made logical sense.

However, when a responsible person who was vigilant about his finances loses his home, the Control Freak worldview breaks down. Wait a minute… if he did everything right and he still lost his home, then that means I can lose my home too – even though I do everything right. That isn’t a very satisfying thought for a Control Freak.

It’s exhausting to be responsible for making sure the entire world runs smoothly. It’s also narcissistic. In order to be responsible for running everything, that must mean that you have control over the whole world. Hmmm… that can’t be the case, can it?

Being at peace with the uncontrollable is what the Serenity Prayer is about: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We Control Freaks would be a lot less “mental” when life doesn’t go as planned if we were more realistic about what we have control over and what we don’t. We have to get much better at handing over those things we can’t control to someone or something who can. In order to hand over the uncontrollable to a higher power, we have to have faith in something greater than ourselves.

Call it God, a Higher Power, the Universe or just the power of our own inner guidance. It is crucial to find a resource to draw on when all rationality and practicality fail to make sense. Having faith helps us let go of the blame, judgment and responsibility we place on ourselves and others for unexplainable and unfair situations.

Control Freaks are the least likely type of people to accept the concept of something we can’t see or something for which there is no scientific proof – which is exactly why we need it the most. Once I got past the “woo woo” aspect of a power greater than myself I thought it was pretty cool to have a personal support system available anytime of the day or night to help me with the most insurmountable problems.

I felt so bad for my friend who lost his house, not because of his financial consequences but because he had no faith in any greater power in which he could find comfort. I recognized an old version of myself in him and I remember how lonely and helpless I used to feel in hard times.

If my friend finds some faith, over time, he may be able to trust that even something as devastating as losing his home, happened for a reason. That can be cold comfort for awhile, but after some time has passed, those reasons really do reveal themselves. Just because we can’t see those reasons now doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Viewing our hardships from a place of faith provide us with the guaranteed reliability that we Control Freaks so desire. A belief in a higher power enables us to let go of becoming “a little mental” when the unexplainable or unfair happens.

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