“But I trust in You. I say ‘You are my God. My times are in Your hand.’” Psalm 31:14-15
Last week we began our brief exploration of the idea of acceptance by saying that this spiritual key begins with accepting the fact that life is not fair. That’s rather easy pickings for life presents us with multiple illustrations each day of its unfairness.
The second key is a lot more slippery. It’s the idea that we have a role in many of the problems we face in life. Personal responsibility is a hard pill to swallow, but it does insulate us from useless resentments, and chronic blaming of other people and circumstances. Instead of blaming and judging other people, I focus on how I got myself into the unpleasant situation. Then I can more clearly see how to get out of the unpleasant situation.
Now let’s move forward. Once we’ve accepted personal responsibility, we are in the realm of what we can control. Figuring out what we can and cannot control is a vital but confusing challenge. Let’s make it simple. Take a hula hoop and put it over your head. Hold it at your waste. Whatever is outside of the hula hoop is beyond your control. If it’s inside the hula hoop, you have some control.
A great deal of personal misery lies in our attempts to control people and circumstances around us. Control is an ugly word, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be ugly. I know a lot of well-meaning, control-oriented people. Most of us try it. I confess to it! I tried to make everyone happy. I wasn’t just a glass half-full kind of guy, I was a “let’s see how I can fill up the rest of the glass for you” kind of guy.
The result is so clear to me now, but I couldn’t see it at the time. When my efforts failed I felt like a failure or was just plain irritated. When the circumstances or people did respond, and sometimes improved, I felt a surge of accomplishment at having personally had a hand in their enlightenment. It’s pure pride, either way. Again, I can see that now, but I sure didn’t when I was in the middle of it.
In “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” category, my daughter realizes she has the same tendency. In a wonderfully crafted confession at lunch recently she told me “I’m a well-meaning bull in God’s china shop.” I do wish I had thought of that first.
Our attempts at control can be very well-intentioned. Control doesn’t mean acting like an angry dictator. It may mean simply having expectations of other people and situations. Expectations sound reasonable, and to an extent they are. The danger lies in how we react when circumstances and people don’t meet our expectations. If the response is anger, disappointment, anxiety, self-pity, etc. then the expectations are unhealthy and a form of control.
At first blush all of this may sound highly fatalistic, as if we’re simply to give up. That’s not true at all. God doesn’t call us to be slackers. We are to be engaged. We should strive, work hard, have excellence as our goal. Acceptance simply means dropping our fists, refusing to fight with the world, and refusing to accept responsibility for everyone else’s performance.
The psalmist wrote “my times are in Your hand.” Here we meet the beautiful idea of God’s Providence. Providence simply means that God’s is at work in the world and in my life. God is in control of me and my circumstances. When I stop resisting this simple idea and simply accept it then life becomes much clearer and usually much easier.
Many of us operate under what I call the Invictus Distortion. William Henley is the author of the famous poem Invictus. He wrote it in the late 1800’s and it is classic, unconquerable Victorian stoicism. You will recall the last two lines; “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Whenever I read the poem I feel as if I could run through a wall! It’s soaring, inspiring, indomitable strength!
And Henley needed it. He wrote it after his leg was amputated. More surgeries followed. He penned these four quatrains while in the infirmary, faced with a choice “do I give in, or do I press forward?” The poem is his answer. We all need Invictus.
The Invictus Distortion, however, is the idea that we have this strength in us for every situation, and that is plainly wrong. Sometimes we do master fate, and other times fate wins. I’d love to believe that my soul is unconquerable, but sometimes the circumstances just seem to blast me into submission. Sometimes my head is both bloodied and bowed, and sometimes I’m afraid. This is life. As long as I adhere to some distorted sense of control over the universe, even every bit of my personal universe, then I am destined for bitter disappointment.
Also on a very practical level, just watch Leslie’s reaction if I thunder into the room with “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul!” She wants a caring husband not a master nor a captain in the house. Her reply? “Yes dear. Now unload the dishwasher.” The Invictus Distortion makes us pretty hard to live with.
Acceptance means leaving my soul, my life, my all in God’s hands.
Now if you want to get into a real tussle with other believers start trying to pin down the definition of Providence. What is God’s role? And what is my role? Answers will run the gamut from God ordains every detail to God has set everything in motion and pretty much sits back and watches how everything plays out.
I suggest that Providence is mysterious, like God, and that means I don’t have to figure it out. It does seem obvious to me that God is at work and expects me to work. My gauge for when I cross the line (if there is a line) is when I feel agitated and disturbed. At that point, I know I’ve tried to bend the world to my will. When I trust God, I’m at peace. I’ve accepted the mysterious fact that my times are in God’s hand.
God has a very nice china shop, and He doesn’t need me charging in with bold proclamations about what I’m master of. Today it’s enough for me to know that He is the Master of my fate, and captain of my soul. I accept that.
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 12, 2017