Every day we are outwardly faced with things like natural disasters, political hostility, bitter violence, or financial troubles. Inside, we may be dealing with marital trouble, wayward children, or serious health issues.
In these times, is it possible to have peace when our lives and the world we live in feel out of control? How?
Wouldn’t life be easier if we had more control? I know I find great comfort in organizing and maintaining my environment—I feel safer when I feel I am in control. I like knowing I have a say in what goes on around me.
I used to think that being in control of things would be the answer to all my troubles. Then one day, in the middle of a personal trial, I learned three steps that let me feel peace, even in the middle of a storm.
Facing a Stormy Day
A few years ago, my oldest daughter fell sick. The rain and wind angrily pelted the outside of our home in one of the worst storms Washington State had seen in years. Inside, Paige lay on the couch, groaning, pale, and lethargic, with a temperature of 104 degrees.
She was rarely ill, so I called the doctor, who urged me to bring her right in. With my husband at work and my young son in school, Paige and I started the trek alone.
The wind rocked my van as I pulled onto the main road. Ominous clouds darkened the sky above; large tree branches and, in some cases, entire trees littered the road below. A downed power line threatened us as we cautiously skirted by. The entire drive was a frustrating and painfully slow obstacle course. Paige groaned from the backseat, quickening my already racing heart.
Soon we found ourselves caught in a stalemate with standstill traffic and debris. My knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. I needed to get Paige to the doctor!
Couldn’t someone understand? My thoughts turned to my son, who was attending school 10 miles away. Frightening scenarios swirled through my mind. What if a tree fell on the school? What if there was an emergency and I couldn’t get to him? What if I couldn’t protect him because I was trapped here?
Step 1: Realize control is a fallacy.
Frustration turned to panic, and as I looked at the chaos around me, my panic turned to helplessness. There was nothing I could do. I had absolutely no control. A dreadful feeling rose inside as the reality of this awful truth sank in.
In the middle of that storm, I wanted control. My daughter was sick, traffic wasn’t moving, my son was far away, and I couldn’t do anything about any of it. I whispered a desperate prayer that I could do something, anything, to change the situation.
Then came an unexpected answer: You don’t have control.
That was not the answer I’d wanted. God was supposed to part the cars like the Red Sea or make my daughter’s fever disappear or calm the skies or bring back the sun—not tell me my greatest fear was a reality! Was there anything I had control of?
My thoughts reached beyond my immediate circumstances to other areas of my life—my children and husband’s choices, my health, my financial situation. I realized I couldn’t control any of it. The list of items and events out of my control grew like the thundering storm—the people at church, my neighbors, the stock market, war, famine. It felt like everything around me was beyond my control, and I felt terrified.
Step 2: Claim personal control.
A rock hit the windshield and brought me back to the moment. I needed to help Paige. In my distress, I had the thought that perhaps God didn’t fully understand what was at stake, that if I explained to Him again what I wanted to happen, what I thought needed to happen, He would calm the storm and my heart.
So frightened and a bit angry, I petitioned Him again with all the faith
and feeling I could muster. But the road remained clogged and the storm raged on. I felt abandoned, hurt, and utterly helpless.
Then another unexpected answer came.
No, you do not have control over your surroundings, but there is no need to fear. I have given you control over the one thing that matters—yourself. You take care of you, and I will take care of the rest.
Understanding broke through the black clouds to the reality that everything around me was temporary; however, I was an eternal being, and the choices I made, the way I controlled myself, would determine who I was right then and who I would be when I met the Savior.
In the great intercessory prayer, Jesus prayed for each of us to know a simple yet vital truth: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). He didn’t ask for me to control the stalled sea of cars in front of me or every other aspect of my life. He asked only that I come to know Him and our Father.
The way I come to know Them is to become like Them and the way to become like Them is through the choices I make to embrace the gift of agency I’ve been given—to claim personal control.
What kind of things fall under our personal control? Our priorities, actions, attitude, and belief. Within these four areas rests our ability to mold our characters and shape our hearts.
Herein is where we choose not only who we will be when we meet our Savior but who we are now.
The Savior said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We are the reason He came to earth, lived, died, and rose again. He sacrificed so that we could not only return to God but so that we could also live an abundant life while we are here. Jesus Christ has done and continues to do His part. Claiming personal control is ours.
Step 3: Give the rest to God.
Back in the storm, a sense of empowerment began to swell within me as I remembered the last part of His answer.
“I will take care of the rest.”
There was one more thing I had control over. I could choose to trust God. I could choose to believe that He really did know what was best in the grand scheme of things, that He was aware of me, my daughter, and the rest of my family, and that He loved us. I could choose to claim personal control, and give Him the rest.
This is the balance of control: We control ourselves and trust God with the rest. As we claim personal control, we put ourselves in the position to receive the wonderful opportunities, experiences, relationships, and circumstances He has prepared for us.
When we give the rest to God, we know that no matter where we find ourselves in this unpredictable life we can’t control, He is there with us. He is in charge. He has a plan. I’ve heard it said that if God brought us to it, He will bring us through it. That is so true. He loves us. He trusts us. He believes in us.
Soon the traffic cleared, and I was able to get Paige the help she needed to return to good health. My son and husband got through the storm safely and all was well.
Quickly, everything went back to the way it was—except for me. I had changed. I felt stronger, more empowered, and more focused. The world is still a crazy, unpredictable, and scary place I can’t control, but now I have no need to fear because I know my part and I know His.
As we embrace this beautiful balance, we can replace fear with faith. We can know we have total control of our joy, our character, our testimony, and our future. And we can know He will take care of the rest.
Most importantly, we can know who He is, and we can know who we can be. And because of all this, we can find peace and control in a world that can feel just the opposite.
Image from Getty Images
For more tips on finding peace in what often feels like a chaotic world, check out Michelle Wilson’s new book, The Beautiful Balance: Claiming Personal Control and Giving the Rest to God, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.