“Oh, you know her, she’s got control issues!”
How many times have you, your friends or co-workers made a similar comment about someone you know?
We’ve all got control freaks in our lives. You know the ones: a boss who micro-manages, a committee chair who refuses to delegate, a child whose favorite phrase is “I can do it myself!”
We tend to look at these people as being power-hungry or ego driven. It seems like they just can’t trust anyone else to do the job, and in their zeal to do it all themselves they deny others the opportunity to learn or serve.
They may make the excuse that it takes too long to teach someone else the task, or it is easier to just get it done than to try to train someone.
There’s a ton of advice around to help these compulsive types overcome their controlling tendencies, and more than a bit of condemnation to go with that advice.
I would like to offer a few words in defense of control freaks, and not just because I may occasionally fit that unflattering description myself.
It is true some of these folks actually do think that in order to get the job done right, they must do it themselves, due either to an inflated ego or a love of the power they feel, and these are agendas I cannot defend, in others or in myself.
However, I think there is another motivation at work in some controlling personalities.
Adult children of alcoholics are often observed to have controlling personalities. This is true of many people raised in chaotic environments where the parents were absent, neglectful or unpredictable. That sort of background doesn’t usually breed feelings of superiority, although it may nurture a strong need for stability that can be expressed in controlling mannerisms. But, I think the primary driving force for many of these personalities may be an over-developed sense of responsibility. “If it is to be, it’s up to me” could be their motto.
Although I was not raised in the sort of family described above, I recognize my own extreme feelings of responsibility, even for things outside my influence. I suppose this rubbed off on me from my parents. My dad was intensely self-reliant and I used to joke about my “control freak” mother, that she even felt responsible for WWII.
So, it is no surprise that during my twenty-five years as a pastor’s wife I had to force myself to remain seated if no one else responded to the weekly altar call. This was no impulse to rededicate myself to the Lord, it was a compulsion to make sure that someone responded. I felt responsible.
I hope you would agree an over-developed sense of responsibility is better than its opposite. Rational responsibility is an admirable character trait…even for Christians who are taught to rely upon God, rather than ourselves.
Most of us have heard the expression, “Pray like it’s all up to God and work like it’s all up to you.” I think it illustrates the difference between responsibility and control.
Each of us is responsible for doing everything we can to please God, but we must acknowledge that he is the only one in control.
If you recognize yourself as one of us annoying “control freaks,” whatever motivates you, the perfect prescription for our malady is the Serenity Prayer (Disclaimer: NOT the exclusive property of twelve-step programs) :
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.