Every generation lives through a few moments so vivid and inescapable they turn into defining, collective memories. Questions regarding them no longer take the shape of if, only where and what.
What were you doing when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan? Where were you when you heard about the Challenger explosion?
Among my generation, a critical question endures: Where were you when Jessie Spano took too many caffeine pills and freaked out, singing “I’m So Excited” in her bedroom?
In a moment of melodrama that remains roundly referenced—and mocked—the early-’90s teen sensation from Saved by the Bell loses her nerve in the face of pressure to excel. The straw that breaks this straight-A student comes in the form of an upcoming musical performance. Confronted about her habit, she sings, “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so . . . scared” before collapsing in tears.
Anyone who knows the Pointer Sisters hit knows Jessie failed to finish the lyric. Play the original hook back: “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it / I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.” The words that wouldn’t find their way to Jessie’s lips represented the very thing she feared the most: losing control.
Until a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have self-identified as a Jessie Spano of sorts. I don’t fit the profile of a Type-A personality. I shrug off organizational tips, lack a commanding presence, and stop listening when others speak of ambition. Oh, and I don’t take caffeine pills.
And yet I have learned to carefully manage every detail of an experience. I gently lead others to behave in a way that maintains my sense of balance. I make pinnacles of my preferences. All because I fear losing control.
All because in the warp of my heart, control and comfort share a room. Control seeks ways to soothe my worries, knowing comfort can’t arrive until it does.
Personal and spiritual anxieties crescendo. I tremble before my fears of screwing up, of doing unintended damage to the people around me. So I dream up a picture of what I think comfort looks like, its lines and limbs, the look in its eyes, then do everything within my power to bring that picture to life.
The more details I try to control, the more control escapes me. Anxiety swells inside my chest until I fear bursting at the seams. I sink into despair, helpless to work everything out, to make myself feel better.
In all this, I keep circling around a conclusion. I’m hoping if I name it, I will sit with it: It is okay to lose control. More than that, letting go is necessary for a flourishing relationship with God.
By divine, beautiful design, the gospel always frees us from something and to something else. Freed from sin, freed to worship. Set free from shame, released to feel love. Freed from control, liberated to lose it.
Jesus said Christians will be known for their love. What if, just beneath that primary truth, we were known as people who willingly gave up any right to control?
What if we threw up our hands, laughed into the void, and lost control of our kids? Our intentions wouldn’t change, but our verbs would. Make, force, push, and compel would give way to shape, sacrifice, shepherd, repent, model, and forgive.
If I believed in my lack of control, I would stop looking past these strange, dear moments with my four-year-old—and for signs my choices already have doomed an eighteen-year-old version of him I haven’t met. His future is controlled by someone who sees the beginning from the end and all the days between. I crave the comfort that comes with that knowledge.
Lose control of where you live, and you automatically up your value as a neighbor. Conventional wisdom says: wall yourself off in suburbs and subdivisions, and safety is guaranteed. But privacy fences and big, broad sidewalks can never account for what lives inside your neighbor’s heart.
Crime and insecurity might be more obvious in other parts of town, but many of our mass shooters and most disturbed criminals emerge from behind walls that just received a fresh coat of paint. No place is harder than another, just hard in different ways.
Ultimately, control is an illusion packaged by people with something else to sell us, preached by pastors whose vision of God doesn’t extend beyond the hands in front of their faces.
The fear of losing control holds no true power over the Christian, because we are never out of control. We might be out of our control, but we abide in the control of a God who changes the winds with a word and actively holds the universe together.
“God is in control” was never meant to be a platitude papering over grief or doubt. An undomesticated reality, that truth contains staggering implications—not the least of which is the comfort it delivers. Recognition of God’s control testifies to the presence of a Spirit always on the move, rarely in ways we recognize.
Wisdom literature brims with passages that say, in essence, Christians can sleep sweetly because God always stays up late. He never relinquishes control, so we can whisper “goodnight” to our own futile attempts and drift off into R. E. M.-level trust.
The gospel says that whenever we lose, we gain. We lose our lives, only to find them. Paul lost his résumé, yet gained intimacy with God. We lose a grasp on control we never possessed in the first place, gaining the comfort of giving ourselves completely to the one who made us, knows us, and loves us best.
I’m not about to lose control, not yet. But when I think on these things, I want to—and I want to like it.
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