Releasing Control

This past week here in the Oregon Willamette Valley, we had a massive ice storm that caused us to lose power for several days. On day 3, I was sitting at home in the cold and feeling very unsettled. I couldn’t predict when the power would be back on. I felt at the mercy of my friends for simple things like charging my phone or having a warm place to sleep. And in that moment, I realized that my biggest frustration wasn’t being without power.

It was being out of control.

I think that in His grace, this past year God has allowed us to more deeply recognize just how out of control we actually are. We have faced a lot of unsettling and unpredictable circumstances including a seemingly unending global pandemic, immense political and racial unrest, and even some more local events here in Oregon including the summer wildfires and the ice storms of this past week. We’ve always been out of control, but this past year has made that even more apparent. We can’t control our relationships, the weather, the economy, our political leaders, and even our body’s susceptibility towards sickness.

I’m recognizing that when I feel out of control, my human inclination is to grasp for control in whatever ways I can. I find myself in the stories of numerous men and woman in the Bible who tried to control their own lives, all with disastrous consequences. For example, instead of trusting God’s promise of a son, Sarah took matters into her own hands and had her husband Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar instead. (Genesis 16:1-4). Rebekah tried to trick Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau and caused immense discord between the two brothers. (Genesis 27). And when he feared getting caught for his sin with Bathsheba, David sought to control the situation by bringing her husband Uriah back from battle to cover up his sin. When this didn’t work, David planned Uriah’s murder (2 Samuel 11).

Personally, I have experienced the havoc that control can wreak in my relationships. I love the way Jon Tyson describes this:

“If a controlling spirit possesses us, we will not love others. We will use them as supporting characters in a story centered on us. We will see them only for the value they have in enhancing our own lives… this dramatic misperception shifts our relationships with others from a foundation of love to one of fear.”

-Jon Tyson, The Burden is Light

As Tyson suggests, when we put so much energy into controlling people and situations, we have less energy to love God and others well. Control makes us self-focused, while surrender turns the focus to God and frees us to love people authentically.

I want to share several ways that God is teaching me to release control in my day to day life.

Identifying Fear: I think that the first step is identifying our deeper fears. I’ve been taking a course in Biblical counseling that addresses the deeper reasons behind our struggles. The text we’re reading suggests that much of our sin is rooted in fear. And fear almost always leads to control. It reads:

“If pride’s primary expression is fear, then we will try to control in order to protect that which we hold dear. Using intimidation to keep people from hurting us, or telling a joke to avoid intimate conversations and vulnerability, or working 75 hours a week so that we don’t lose our job… In these ways we refuse to trust in God alone to protect what truly needs to be protected.”

-John Henderson, Equipped to Counsel

Therefore, when I find myself grasping for control, I try to ask myself: What is the deeper fear? Am I afraid of being vulnerable? Am I fearing abandonment? Am I scared of losing my material possessions and security? Do I fear releasing my independence and autonomy? We need to identify the deeper fear in order to expose why we so desperately crave control.

Looking to the example of Jesus: As I read the Gospels, I am struck by how surrendered Jesus was to His Father’s will. I love John 6:38 which reads:

“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”

-John 6:38

It’s clear that Jesus wasn’t tied to His own agenda or plans. He was surrendered to the will of His Father in the context of His day to day life. If His Father told Him to go to a certain village, He did. If His Father told Him to leave, He did. Even Jesus’ willingness to spend the first 30 years of His life in almost total obscurity is a testament to His reliance on the Father’s perfect timing.

And then on the cross we see the greatest example of His surrender. Jesus literally gave up every right He had as God and King and put Himself in the most vulnerable position imaginable, death on a cross. I love His closing prayer, “Father, into your hands, I commit my Spirit”. Even at His final breath, Jesus was surrendered to His Father and completely trusting Him.

Jesus’ example is so powerful and one than we should meditate on until it becomes true in our own lives.

Prayer: Lastly, I think that prayer is one of the most powerful ways that we release control. In his book With Open Hands, Henri Nowen suggests that one of the greatest purposes of prayer is to get to a place where our hands are truly open before God. He writes:

“To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive.”

-Henri Nowen, With Open Hands

One practice that has been helpful for me is to journal the things that I’m clinging onto. Then I physically open up my hands as a sign of surrender. In prayer, I am reminded of God’s faithful and consistent love. Only when we are truly secure in his love and goodness, do we have the courage to fully open our hands and let go.

I wanted to close by sharing a song by Rebecca St. James that has been so meaningful to me lately. This is such a beautiful song of surrender and I hope it encourages you!


I was trying to choose a word to encapsulate what God has been doing in my life this year. Last year it was freedom.

This year it is very simple: trust.

Whenever I hear the word trust, I think of Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

This verse can become almost a cliche because we’ve heard it so many times. But when you really think about the truth of these words, it is incredibly powerful. Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to truly trust in the Lord. I’m learning that there are some key components:

Knowing His character: It is nearly impossible to trust the Lord if I doubt His character. Do I truly believe that He is good and His ways are good? Do I trust that He is using every situation, even the ones the Enemy meant for evil, to draw me closer to His heart and to shape me into the person He wants me to be? Do I believe that He is trustworthy and will actually follow through on His promises? These are questions I’ve had to wrestle with God and continue to wrestle with Him. I must be confident that God will never leave me or forsake me in order to truly trust Him.

Believing He’s there: Someone recently described trust to me as “stepping out on a solid place”. I just love that. Trust isn’t stepping onto shaky or unstable ground. In fact it’s the exact opposite. God is a solid rock that will keep me from stumbling. I just love Psalm 121:3 which says, “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” He is strong enough to bear the weight as I step out in faith. 

Releasing control: This is where I struggle the most in trusting the Lord. At the center of my anxiety is a desire to control my life. However, I’m realizing that although I can try to manipulate and control my circumstances all I want, the truth is that I am very out of control. Control is an illusion that makes me feel safe, but doesn’t actually keep me safe. I’m safest when I release control to the One who is actually in control of the world and my life.

Listening for His voice: Recently someone challenged me that I can’t truly hear God’s voice if I’m not surrendered to His will. I have to truly want His ways above my own in order to hear what He’s saying to me. This is a tough one and I’m definitely not there yet.

Moreover, I need to create space to hear His voice. For me this means taking time each day to just be quiet and listen. God’s voice isn’t forceful or demanding, but rather soft and gentle. I can’t hear God’s voice in the chaotic noise and frantic activity of my life. Instead I hear it most clearly in the quiet place.

Obeying what He says: As someone who struggles with action and practicality, God is really challenging me in this area. It’s one thing to hear what God says, but it’s another to actually do it.

This means that when God opens a door, I step through it.

When God tells me to talk to someone, I talk to them.

When God gives me a word to speak to someone, I say it.

When God tells me to reach out to someone, I contact them.

As someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I can often feel paralyzed to take action. But when I play it safe, I find that my world gets smaller and I miss out on the opportunities God has for me. However, when I say yes to the simple invitations God puts before me and obey Him, my world slowly expands.

I wanted to close with a quote from the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I mentioned in an earlier post that this book has had such a powerful impact on my life lately. In this allegory about the Christian life, a fearful girl named Much Afraid learns to trust her Shepherd’s will for her life and follow Him where He leads her. At one point in the journey, she decides to keep going even though the way ahead is unknown and frightening.  The Shepherd’s response to her is so beautiful:

“You have one real beauty, Much Afraid, you have such trustful eyes. Trust is one of the most beautiful things in the world. When I look at the trust in your eyes I find you more beautiful to look upon than many a lovely queen.”

I think that this is God’s heart to all of us when we choose to trust Him.