NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON MARCH 21, 2013. It was interesting to read back over this acknowledgment of my struggle for control. It was especially interesting to read this now, in light of Brandon’s death. Therefore, this is a different kind of post. I have underlined portions of the original text and added remarks in bold throughout this blog. It’s kind of like me talking to myself. It may make the reading a little more confusing, but I hope you understand.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."
1 Peter 5:6-7
I don't consider myself a worrier. I am not they type to sit and brood over a mole, wondering if it is cancerous. I don't fret every time my husband is late coming home to dinner, afraid that he may have been in an accident. I don't go nuts when the phone rings at midnight (although I have to admit, it is startling). And I don't get anxious when finances are tight wondering whether we will be able to pay the bills. In fact, my motto has always been "Don't worry about it until you know there is something to worry about."
(I remember trying to have this attitude the night Brandon died, when he hadn’t come home, and we didn’t know where he was.)
However, there is one area of my life where I find that I am prone to anxiousness. It's my children.
I'm sure that probably doesn't surprise most of you mothers. Still, it is kind of different with me. I have never been overly obsessed with my children's health and well-being. I didn't freak out when they were little and woke up with a fever in the night. Even when my third son, Ryan, had multiple and serious medical issues as an infant, I don't remember being overly worried--concerned, yes--worried, no. Even now as my oldest son, Sjon-Paul, has begun driving, I don't really worry. In fact, I'm ready for him to drive on his own so I don't have to take him everywhere! It's not those kinds of things that I worry over.
(It didn’t used to be, but I think about things like this more now. Ryan is getting ready to get his driver’s license any day. How will I handle it when he is out late and I hear the sirens?)
I worry about things like how much effort they give, whether they are setting goals for themselves and trying to reach them, whether they are compassionate to those less fortunate, and whether they are protecting their thought life. I worry about what kinds of attitudes they are developing, what their futures hold, and whether they are paying attention to their spiritual health--basically all things that I have very little control over. Those are the things that make me anxious. Those are the things that keep me up at night. Those are the things I find myself crying about.
(I still do.)
It's normal for a mom to worry about her kids, right? Well, maybe. It may be normal, but I'm not certain it's right. See, there is a difference between concern and worry, and the difference is most easily defined by what I do with my concern.
The Bible has lots of verses that are applicable to this. One of my favorite passages is a simple one. 1 Peter 5:6-7 "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."
It's so simple, right. The command is to take our concerns to the Lord. So, when I find myself anxious about whether my children are trying their best in school, I should take it to God and let Him take care of it, not sit brooding over it. Or when I find myself worried because I don't think my children are demonstrating a proper attitude towards authorities, I should take it to God, and let Him handle it.
That's the plan. But, recently, I have discovered a problem with that plan--or at least my execution of it. It hit me so hard, it is the reason I had to write about it here, after not having written on this blog site in two years. I had to share what God has shown me.
I am reading a book titled "Calm My Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow. It is in fact not my first time reading it. I read most of it last year and then set it aside. I recently became aware of the need to hear it's lessons again. Now, I am on my third reading.
(I think I should probably read this book again.)
In the first chapter, Dillow shares a story about two monks. Both monks planted trees. After planting, the first monk began to pray for his tree. First, he prayed for rain because the tree needed the water. Then he prayed for sun because the tree needed the sunshine. Then he prayed for frost so that the tree would be strengthened. Each time, God answered the monks prayers and provided what he had requested. But, in the end, the tree died. However, the second monk's tree continued to grow and thrive. When questioned, the second monk simply said, "I entrust my tree to its God. He who made it knows better what it needs than a man like me. I laid no condition. I fixed not ways or means. 'Lord, send what it needs,' I prayed, 'storm or sunshine, wind, rain, or frost. Thou hast made it and Thous dost know.'"
I read that story several times before God showed me how it applied to my life. It was a real "ah ha" moment. I recognized that I am like the first monk, and my children are like his tree.
You see, I will tell you a secret. I am a control freak. OK, it's not much of a secret for those who know me. I like to appear in control. God keeps reminding me that I am never really in control.
(I realize that now more than ever.)
So, when it comes to my children, the very issues that seem to plague me the most are those things over which I have no control, and I can't even pretend to control them. I mean, how am I supposed to control my teenage sons' thought lives? I don't know what's going on in their heads. And while I can reward or discipline the demonstration of certain attitudes, we all know that real attitude change comes from a change of the heart, and all my pleading, prodding, begging and crying cannot change anyone's heart. That's something only God can do. And that's where God has shown me the error of my ways.
The first monk outlined each thing he thought his tree needed and then asked God to give those things. How many times, have I prayed, "God, give my boys victory in basketball so they can see the value of hard work and praise your name." "Oh, Lord, please provide friends who demonstrate a proper attitude of obedience and respect so that my boys will have Godly examples to follow suit." "Lord, convict my sons' over such-and-such behavior so that they will know they are wrong."
Now, listen, I am not a theologian. I am not trying to say that it is wrong to pray for specific things for your children. I believe in praying specifically. Just a year ago, my two youngest sons and I prayed for friends because they had none, and recently we praised God in prayer because they now have several new buddies. It's not what I prayed for that's the issue. It's my heart behind it.
Rather unconsciously, I believe that I, like the first monk, have often tried to help God along in this task of growing my children. And that has been the issue of my anxiety. You see, when I bring my requests about the boys to God, I don't just "cast my cares" at His feet. First, I ponder over them a while. I try to outline what exactly I think would make things better. I try to determine what the formula for success in this area would mean. Then I take it to God and ask Him to give my little "tree" this, that, or the other. Fortunately, God has not allowed my trees to die as a result.
(Ouch! One of them did die. Could it have been because of my failures as a mother? Am I somehow to blame?)
However, I have found that the whole process is producing a very anxious mother.
Dillow writes, "Contentment is accepting God's sovereign control over all of life's circumstances." Can I accept that God is control of my children's lives, even when it doesn't appear that way to me?
(God is in control, not me. That is still true—as much now, after Brandon’s death, than when I first wrote this. I didn’t cause Brandon’s death. God could have stopped it.)
It's not easy. I haven't mastered it. In fact, I am just beginning to grasp the whole thing.
This morning an issue arose, and I found all this coming to mind. I had to step back and think about it. It is not natural for a mom (or at least not this mom) to let go. I want to hold on tight. If I am honest, I have to say, I want control. Sometimes, I want to control what God will or will not do. But I know that I am not God, and God is so much wiser than I could ever be. My grasping for control is not helping matters for my boys, and it is definitely not helping me. I don't have all the answers, and that's OK. God doesn't expect me to have all the answers. I may be their mother, but they were and are His children first.
(Brandon was God’s child even more than he was mine.)
So, I am trying to take a lesson from the second monk. I am trying to learn to pray, "I entrust my children to you, God, their Creator and Redeemer, the One who created them and died to save them. You know much better than I do what they need. Lord, please send whatever they need to help them grow into the men of God You and I both want them to become."
(I entrusted God with my children, and He allowed one of them to die. If I believe that Heaven is real and that Brandon is there with God now—and I do—then I have to believe that Brandon is obviously better off in Heaven than he was here on earth. That seems so contrary to my way of thinking, but I know it’s true…I guess I still have a lot to learn, a lot of room to grow. My prayer today is even more simple, “God, just help me to trust you.”)