taking the words of Jesus seriously

I searched on my computer. I kept pulling up the app on my phone. And it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I could not figure out how to start the Palm Sunday service that our family had missed while we were on our impromptu weekend camping trip. Two hours earlier I had finally felt relaxed and ready to face the week. The sudden panic over a situation with a simple solution threw me off balance. It was nonsensical. It wasn’t the first time we’d had to make up worship after a Sunday morning because we had chosen to spend a weekend camping, but this time I was near tears as I tried to figure out how to deliver this one piece of normalcy to my family.

I walked away, took a shower, and reflected on my irrational reaction.

Control. I was desperate for control. Picking a time to worship as a family was supposed to be within my control and it wasn’t. And that is the problem. Right now, there are so few things that are actually in our control.

I like order. I like consistency. I like to have an idea of what is coming around the next bend.

That’s why, as a teacher, I create lesson plans for weeks at a time. It’s why I carefully plan out mileage, stops, and stays for each of our family vacations, doing so months in advance. I like feeling like I have some kind of control over what is coming next.

COVID-19 has taken away that control from a lot of us.

We didn’t make the decision to go to one of our favorite local state parks without some trepidation. Lake Livingston State Park is less than 90 minutes away and full of hiking trails, places to safely bike, and multiple fishing spots. We know the park and we knew that we could safely social distance for an entire weekend. We also know that individual people can be responsible and groups of people can be just plain stupid, so while we would have completely supported the parks being shut down before we left, for our family’s sake we were thankful that was not the case.

And, for the first time in weeks, we felt like we gained 36 hours of control. 

READ: To the Isolated Addicts (And That is All of Us)

We felt like we had control even with a late arrival and no firewood, even though it rained on and off all weekend, and even as we got forced inside for half of the time that we were camping.

Because we weren’t dealing with a virus that we didn’t understand. We were dealing with elements we had significant experience working around. We could go hiking when the rain temporarily cleared, and we did. We couldn’t have a roaring fire in the wet fire pit, but I could still make s’mores on the grill. We couldn’t go fishing but we could still play three rounds of Trivial Pursuit and read while we listened to the rain fall on the roof of the camper.

For 36 hours we didn’t have to worry about the actions of others over which we had no say. We didn’t have to worry about contracting an invisible virus that has no respect for personal boundaries. We were making decisions about what we were going to do as a family and we didn’t have to think about a pandemic, personal protections, or challenges from work.

And then we had to come home where we can only control what happens within the walls of our house, and even that control is limited.

I can’t control the response at the federal, state, or local level. I can’t control people who refuse to stop visiting others, the personal hygiene of citizens outside of my household, and the supply chain and the availability of supplies. I can’t control what this virus is going to do to my loved ones and to my country.

And that loss of control is wearing me down.

The need for control has always been a personal sticking point for me in my faith walk. I couldn’t control whether or not my family moved when I was a kid or stop a friend from committing suicide. I couldn’t control my inability to get pregnant or our ability (or more accurately inability) to sell one house while we were moving to another city. Decisions that I felt should be mine to make were taken out of my hands and placed into the hands of others.

Why is it that some of us need to be humbled by our own humanity before we are willing to admit that we can’t do it on our own?

I know that people mean well when they say that “God has a plan.” I know that those are meant to be words of comfort to help us rely on something bigger than ourselves. But that misguided, albeit well-meaning, theology indicates that the God of love is also an intentional God of destruction. If I believe that God is just a puppet master, then I have to believe God has inflicted COVID-19 on the world as random, indiscriminate retribution against the entire globe. But I don’t believe God holds us all on a string.

Instead, God carries us when we are incapable of control. God guides us to the answers but lets us decide when we are going to utilize them. God gives us the tools but doesn’t force us to pick them up. I can’t control factors outside of myself, but I can pray for guidance around those factors and for patience for the things I cannot control.

And right now, that’s the best that I can do.

About The Author

Sarah Styf is a high school English teacher and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she writes about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures, at acceptingtheunexpectedjourney.com. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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