|My husband held open the door of our hotel room and cheerfully asked, “Ready?”
I stopped short. “You’re not wearing that sweatshirt again, are you?” I asked, wrinkling my nose. Then I learned that the sweatshirt was all he’d brought.
“You’ve worn it for two days!” I groaned, sniffing him as we stepped into the hallway.
We were headed to meet our daughter for lunch for the first time on her college campus. What if we met her friends? What if she introduced us to a professor? What if we snapped a photo? I wanted us to both look nice, and that sweatshirt was not what I had in mind.
I mentally clicked through our options. We had 20 minutes, and the drive to campus only took five. “OK, here’s what we’ll do,” I said, sliding into the passenger seat. “Pull into the store, and I’ll go buy you something to wear.”
“No,” he said.
“No?” I asked incredulously. “You look ridiculous! You cannot wear that!”
“Shannon, this sweatshirt is fine,” he said calmly, turning the key.
I did not agree.
In moments like this, my heart always calls to me with logic, clear and strong: “You’ve got to do something! Right now!” With one eye on the future and where this all might lead, I feel compelled to manage all the contingencies. I’m convinced it’s all up to me to take control and make things turn out right.
But I’m finding that life as a Control Girl is not only exhausting, it’s also counterproductive.
When I clamp down and grip tighter, I only create conflict and distance, not the peace, security and joy I envision. The more controlling I get, the more miserable we all become. This car ride was no exception.
I pleaded and criticized and nagged, but my husband was undeterred. He thought his sweatshirt looked fine. My inner Control Girl thought the world was going to end.
When I try to control what I cannot, I lose control of the one thing I can — myself. I become frantic, angry and obsessive, and I trigger the worst in others. This is particularly true in marriage. I want control, but he wants respect.
My husband perceives my efforts to control him as disrespect. He knows I wouldn’t nag, criticize or challenge other people I respect. I wouldn’t roll my eyes if they wore a sweatshirt.
I agree wholeheartedly with Ephesians 5:33, which says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband” (ESV). I just don’t always see my controlling behavior as disrespectful. But my husband does. And God does, too. He invites me to walk in a new direction.
Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Oh how I wanted to gratify my flesh that day! I wanted to keep bringing up the sweatshirt, nagging my husband and rolling my eyes. But thankfully, even more, I wanted to walk by the Spirit — which meant respecting my husband’s choice instead of trying to control him.
Surrendering control to God is not the same as doing nothing. When you “do nothing,” you might count to 10 or scroll through Instagram, but these distractions won’t transform you. Surrendering to God will.
Surrender is some of the most uphill, heart-rate-spiking, grueling work of my entire Christian life. It involves gathering up all my hopes, dreams, fears and objections and spilling them out before God, saying, “You’re in control. Which means I don’t have to be.”
Each time I do this — whether over a sweatshirt or something with far higher stakes — I take one more step with the Spirit. Each time I say no to me and yes to God, He uses my surrender to transform me.
I’ve seen how my Control Girl behavior can destroy an afternoon. I know the erosive effect it has on my relationships and on me. But on that sunny day over lunch with my daughter, her friends and my sweatshirt-clad husband, I experienced the peace, security and joy that comes only from placing control where it belongs — in God’s hands.
Surrendering to God might not change my situation, but it will — one sweatshirt at a time — change me.
Dear God, please reshape my heart as I do the gritty, step-by-step work of surrendering control to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.