When we moved from Morogoro to the big city, about 4 hours away, my husband and I decided that we should check on our newly rented home before packing up the family and just showing up. We don’t make many good preemptive decisions, but that was one of them, so I feel it’s only appropriate to acknowledge it. When we arrived (a few days before our projected moving date) we found about 30 squatters lounging throughout the property. People were living both inside and outside of the home and we even stumbled upon a *cough, cough* “couple” in our bedroom. That was exceptionally mortifying on all of our parts.
If it hadn’t been so infuriating, it could have been a little bit funny. But it was indeed infuriating, so on that particular day I missed the humor and was just plain mad. How did the squatters get there? The landlord decided to have new windows put in throughout the entire house but was delayed, leaving openings where they removed the old windows. This created the perfect place for people to come and go at their leisure. Another disastrous consequence of the squatters, other than wanting to scratch my eyeballs out due to the unfortunate “couple” encounter, was that everything that we had purchased from the previous renters was stolen, except for the couches and mattresses which were *coughing again* in use.
Through this experience, we learned a valuable lesson forgot everything we had learned and made the same mistake twice. Two years later, we planned another move to a small farm outside of the city (read about that mistake-of-a-year here). New tenants were scheduled to move into our current home, so we had just a few days to move. Moving day came and we realized that the new farm home had no kitchen (just a completely empty room with walls), no water and no doors (I’m talking like no front door here). The lack of doors, once again, left it open to any person or any creature to enter in at their leisure. Listen, we are pretty chill people, but even we have our limits. So, we asked our beloved Shan if our giant family could move into her house for 1 day 1 month (still sorry for that, Shan) until the house was in good shape still barely liveable.
Something we did learn from our past experience was that we didn’t like being robbed, so we packed up all of our expensive or important items (tv, computer, ipad, hard drives, children, etc) to take to Shan’s and left the rest in the open farm house just hoping and praying that it was still there the next day. That night, our family, our friends Jeff and Jeremy who were helping us move, Shan and all of our junk stayed at Shan’s house. That same night, snuggled and cozy at Shan’s safe haven, and among all of our favorite belongings, we were robbed.
Apparently, the car-load of belongings being carted into Shan’s house alerted the wrong people. So, with torches in hand, the thieves melted the security bars and came through a window.
The irony and hysteria of us being robbed from the safe-ish house that we had escaped to was too much. Everything we were trying to protect, except the children of course, was taken.
For an extra dose of both humor and annoyance, the thieves also stole our shoes. That, in and of itself was not funny at all (I’m still mad about my leather Zanzibar sandals). The funny part was that our stolen shoes were kindly replaced in a neat, lined-up row with the thieves’ shoes, which served as a generous gesture of replacements for our stolen shoes.
We did everything we knew to prevent ourselves from being robbed…and it still happened. It’s a funny thing when you realize, as an American adult, that control is a complete façade. In America we can typically “predict” and “control” most of our lives…or so we think.
Our non-Christian friend, who has assisted in many Tanzanian adoptions, said this in a conversation last month about most American Christians whom she has worked with:
“For people who claim to believe that God is in control, they sure lose their minds when paperwork or processes don’t go their way. Americans and American Christians simply cannot handle being out of control. Placing their family, through foreign adoption, into a system that is unreliable reveals this and it nearly breaks them… There was one family several years ago, however, that actually made me step back and view Christianity in a different way. This family came to court every time with a calm spirit saying “”we prayed today for hearts that would honor and praise God no matter what decision is made for our adoption.”” That family made me realize that their faith changed their perspective on being out of control.”
I have thought about that conversation over and over again. We have a world that is watching. But so many of us don’t know how to truly surrender our lives to Jesus…because we haven’t really had to. We serve Jesus and we appreciate His love and grace towards us, but when trials or conflict come our way, we often completely fall apart. It exposes a reality that we would all rather not discuss. The reality is that we weren’t really in control in the first place. I believe that the great lie of “control” is one of satan’s most powerful tools in the western world to keep our eyes off of God and onto the transient things that we cling to in order to make us temporarily “happy”.
Could some of the reasons for rapidly increasing cases of anxiety, losing hope, burn out, depression the overall stress and discontentment in the west be because we have come to serve the idol of control? It haunts our every move. It lurks over us as we make a million choices with a million different possible outcomes. We are deceived by control with our every command to Alexa, and as we agonize over the very best vaccines/athletic, extracurricular, and educational opportunities for our children, choosing the best career paths, laboring over which pictures to post on social media in order to maintain our controllable identity, choosing the best birthing plans, paying for the top security systems, shopping in the safest areas, we even have access to unlimited information with one question typed into google or asked to Siri, seriously, most of our lives are even lived inside of climate controlled environments (living in intense tropical heat, I sincerely miss that part of the west). None of these are necessarily sinful but the combination has made us into the most “in control” yet most emotionally out-of-control generation yet.
With this worldview (and with access to unlimited options) when feelings, relational stresses or trauma happens in our lives that we can’t control it nearly destroys us. It reveals our lack of control and we don’t know what to do with that.
But deep down, and what causes so much of that anxiety, fear and a yearning for even more “control” is the knowledge that, despite all the things we put into place to make our lives go a certain way, we do not have ultimate control.
We can do everything we can to protect ourselves and our things but sometimes the robbery still happens.
We can eat all the right foods, use all the correct oils, remove all the worst chemicals and still end up with cancer.
We can set ourselves up for all the best retirement plans, all the right investments and still end up losing it all.
We can do everything within our power to live at peace with others and still end up rejected or hurt.
2014 Journal of Behavioral Addictions concluded that the average college student now spends 9 hours a day on his phone. So, how can students learn to react well to “out of control” circumstances when they live most of their waking hours in a virtual world where almost everything is within their control?
When we moved overseas there were so many things out of my control that I had a season of feeling completely crazy crazier than normal. I have never been a fearful person, but it felt like surprise and distress were waiting for my family at every turn. I had never felt so out of control. Few things felt more out of control than when our youngest daughter, two years old at the time, was fighting malaria and began struggling to breathe. We drove 4 hours to the nearest hospital to get our daughter the medical care she needed while she sat in her car seat gasping for air. Thankfully we arrived at the hospital and they were able to treat her.
I was scared that day and I was continually tempted to think about how this would have never happened in America. I asked myself why we brought our children here. But then my mind flashed to a scene that I had experienced just a couple of months before. I was sitting on the hospital bed of a precious dying baby, John Jacob, who had been brought to the orphanage at four months old, weighing only 2 kilos. As I sat next to him, my eyes flashed between his tiny body to several mothers huddled across the room. These mothers were holding their little ones, surrounding a ventilator, patiently waiting turns for each of their babies, gasping for air, to use the machine.
The variance of “control” between myself and each of those mothers didn’t seem fair to me. Why did I have a car and money to take my child 4 hours away for proper medical care while these mothers had little control over their situations? How were they so calm sitting around that respirator? They loved their babies just as much as I did, so how could I explain their composed dispositions? I believe the answer lies in the fact that “control” has never been much of a reality in their lives like it has been in mine. Slowly, over the years of living overseas, God has revealed to me, through hundreds of these kind of circumstances, how often my heart turns to created things rather than the Creator. Though still a prevalent struggle in my heart, I have realized through living in a more uncontrollable and unpredictable life, that control belongs to God. That is faith. C.H. Spurgeon said, “To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust him in the dark – that is Faith.”
So, the moral of our somewhat insignificant robbery story is that we can and should try our best to make wise decisions and we should use all the options that God provides us with but, in the end, our God is in control and sometimes difficult things, unpredictable things, and tragic things, still happen. John Piper says, “The question is, which world would you rather live in? One where humans or satan or chance govern what happens to you? Or one where an infinitely good, infinity wise, infinitely powerful God works everything together for the good of those who trust Him and for his glory?” It doesn’t make it easy, but it forces us to take our eyes off this world and onto a living God and our eternal home in heaven with Him. Not only does the “out of control” force us to turn our eyes to Him, but when we do, He promises to be there to bring comfort, peace and help in our time of need.
Read Isaiah 40 below and be filled with beautiful truth of the greatness, goodness, power and tender care of our God. Believe that truth, ask God to fill you with reminders of His greatness, repent of your idolatry of control, receive forgiveness, and watch the crippling grip of “needing control” slowly fade away and replaced with hope, rest, and with a peaceful soul and renewed strength.
Grace and Peace,
Comfort for God’s People
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The Word of God Stands Forever
A voice says, “Cry!”And I said, “What shall I cry?”All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
The Greatness of God
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him,and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.