Giving Up the False Hope of Control

"I needed to parse between the good control of an adult over children, and the untrue sense that I actually was or could be in control of all things."

I was about to head across the pond to Europe with a group of 32 teenagers and only 4 other adults. I got to spend Easter week in Italy! Such an experience should have been filling me with great joy and excitement. While this type of travel for the school at which I teach is one of my greatest joys, it is also one of my greatest worries. Usually I am the second in command, ready to do whatever the teacher in charge needs done. I'm good at making things happen, at telling kids what to do, and helping them do it. This time, however, I was IN CHARGE. The HEAD HONCHO. Il CAPO. The LEADER.

This freaked me out. All of that responsibility weighed heavily on me as I prepared. Lost passports, ill students, room scuffles, rebellious attitudes, late alarm clocks, paranoid parents, sensitive kids, agenda-driven tour guides, intermittent internet, food allergies, and overly-friendly Italians all fell under my purview on this trip. And what I realized as I prayed to prepare for these 9 days was there was actually very little over which I had any control.

And this was okay. This was, in fact, good for me to recognize. I did not have ultimate control.

Now, I did have a bit of control over certain things. As a teacher and adult, my authority is quite strong with these kids. As someone they trust and know loves them, my relationship with them is also on solid footing. But these things wouldn't stop a plane from being delayed or a virus from hitting a kid hard, it wouldn't stop jet lag or crowds of tourists making lines long, or clean up the canals in Venice.

So, my preparation the week before included focusing on giving up control. Or, really, what I thought was control. As a teacher, I rule my little basement classroom. Control is a good thing in my realm, a necessary quality or my kids won't learn anything. But I needed to parse between the good control of an adult over children, and the untrue sense that I actually was or could be in control of all things. This was impossible, unnecessary, and exhausting.

God was in control. I was not. And this was better than good; this was perfect. He was in control of me and my beloved students. He was in control of our world, even oceans away. His control was more powerful than mine, extending far beyond my reach.

To help me prepare for this trip, during which I knew many things would pop up unplanned, most of which would be fun and exciting and beautiful and good, but some of which might be uncomfortable or difficult, I meditated on Isaiah 55. This passage focuses on God's good promises for his children, for Israel specifically, and reminds them that seeking Him and allowing Him to lead is the only thing that brings true peace and joy,

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. 
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

God's plan and his purposes are greater than I can even imagine. So I would trust myself, and more difficult to do, my students, with Him. Down to the the last tiny detail. I planned diligently, and was as prepared as I could be out of love for those 32 teenagers, but I had to remember:

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." Proverbs 19:21

"The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps." Proverbs 16:9  

So instead of worrying about my upcoming trip, I focused on turning those thoughts to meditation on the goodness of my God. Trying to listen to His call when He says "be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). Trying to trust. That I could do by meditating on who He says He is in the scriptures, for Proverbs 16:20 tells us "Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord."

Now, a couple of weeks later, I can look back and see how God did, indeed, hold us gently in His hand through our travels. Yes, a kid got sick, one lost his passport, another had trouble getting through customs, but it all worked out. I got to see a 15 year old stand in awe before Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, to eat gelato and drink cappuccinos every day with my kids, and pray with them on Good Friday. All my panic and stress counted as nothing, but my faith and trust in Him was made good.

In what areas of your life can you release those remnants of being in control of all things? What things cause your shoulders to tense when they start to crumble? What details keep you up at night? What do you find yourself talking and complaining about over and over again with your coworkers and flatmates, your spouse and friends, when things don't go as planned? These are clues into the parts of your life that you think you can run, and where God needs to be more present. Think about it. Assess it. Pray. Read God's word. Remind yourself that it's not about us. In the words of John the Baptist "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).