I Am Not In Control

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Lightning – cc photo by J. Delp

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. – Mother Teresa

On Friday evening I was on a connecting flight (with my daughter and wife) from Chicago to Wichita, Kansas. We were all engaged in our own activities — sleeping, reading, listening to music — when my daughter, who was sitting in the window seat, tapped my shoulder and nervously pointed outside of the airplane. The night sky was flashing and popping in a magnificent display of lightning. From our flying altitude it seemed especially close, awe inspiringly spectacular, and perhaps to my daughter, a bit frightening.

But I wasn’t worried.

A couple of times each year, I travel to Haiti to visit friends and work with a few schools. Haiti can be incredibly beautiful, but it is also shockingly poverty-stricken and overwhelmingly chaotic. A normal drive through Port-au-Prince can be a harrowing experience, but I have also driven up steep, narrow, mountain roads that are not made (or maintained) for vehicles. I have seen demonstrations and even been caught-up in a protest, narrowly slipping past a road block designed to shut down a major highway.

But I wasn’t worried.

A few times each week, or even each day, I receive an email, a phone call, or I have a situation that arises at school — something has gone wrong, someone is upset or angry, a student has had a bad experience, or a staff member is facing a challenge. I become overly anxious. How can I resolve the problem? How can I keep everyone safe and happy? How can I be responsible for my students, my staff, and my school community? Countless situations call for action, but I feel often feel paralyzed by indecision.

I worry.

So, how is it that I am able to function with a reasonable amount of assurance¬†in Haiti, or remain calm (and even enjoy) a lightning storm at 35,000 feet — but allow an email, an upset individual, or a growing task list to trigger anxiety. I believe the answer lies (at least in part) in the fact that I have fooled myself into believing that in the latter situations I am ultimately in control.

I am not a pilot, and I am clearly unable to influence weather patterns and storms. In Haiti, I am at the mercy of my good friend to get me safely where I need to go, translate, and monitor the surroundings for potential risk. Even if I wanted to, there is very little I could do to influence outcomes in these situations. I must rely on faith — in others and in God. I understand this and so I don’t allow those things to be stressful or create anxiety.

While it is true that I am responsible for the actions in my day-to-day life, it would be absurd to believe that I could control another person’s response, or that I am solely responsible for the attitudes and happiness of everyone around me. I am no more capable of doing than controlling, a lightning storm or dispersing a protest in Haiti. It just isn’t going to happen.

This doesn’t excuse me from responsibility. In fact, it is absolutely critical that I make deliberate, thoughtful, and responsible decisions in the moment– doing my best to positively influence outcomes for the benefit of those I serve. But once those decisions have been made, or actions have been taken, I have to rest in knowing that I did my best, have faith and understand that final outcomes are beyond my control.

This is not an easy thing for me — or most people for that matter. I struggle to stay in the moment. I am easily distracted. I am overconfident in my ability to influence outcomes and I want everyone to be happy. I struggle to distinguish what is truly important from what is trivial. I want to be in control — but true control is an illusion.

I am convinced that my daily success depends on a few key elements:

  • Taking the time for quiet reflection
  • Identifying what is most important–the big rocks…the things that really matter
  • Staying in the moment — being present and caring for the people in front of me
  • Doing my best, and then having faith that things will be okay — letting go

None of it is easy, but for me, letting go is the biggest challenge. I have to continue to work at accepting the fact that I am not ultimately in control. I have to do my best, keep my attention on what matters most, and then have faith in the outcome.

One thought on “I Am Not In Control

  1. Perfectly timed for my life, Jeff Delp. In less than a month my son is off to boot camp. I thought his childhood dreams of being a soldier would disappear after a degree and a job offer. He is clearly called for another purpose. Trusting in God – that’s what I am called to do.

    Liked by 1 person

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