No One Really Has it All Under Control

It’s hard for a perfectionist to live with ‘good enough’ but it’s even harder for most people to live with a perfectionist. Neil and I had different ways of doing things. I always folded towels into trifolds; Neil folded them however they fit in the drawer. I washed the dishes right after dinner; Neil washed them before bed, or even worse, before breakfast. I can’t even count how many arguments we had about whether the toilet paper should unroll from the top or the bottom. It was hard for me to relinquish control of the household when I went to work, just as I am sure it was hard for Neil to always be under my watchful eye.

One night I came home after a long shift in the ER and crept upstairs to kiss the girls tonight. I saw a strange chunk of hair on the steps, but didn’t pay much attention to it. I set it on the handrail to throw away on my way back down. My two youngest daughters shared a bedroom back then, and both were sleeping soundly as I tiptoed in and blessed their foreheads. I checked my oldest and blessed her, too. All was peaceful and quiet as I went in to the bathroom, until I noticed what I thought was a mouse behind the standing towel rack. It turned out to be another chunk of hair. I didn’t scream loud enough to wake the girls but I did get Neil’s attention downstairs.

“Are you ok?” He yelled up from the living room.
“Yes, but what’s all this hair from?”
“What hair? What are you talking about?”

Hmmm. Curious, I looked around for a doll that was now bald, but couldn’t find one. Then I saw another chunk of hair on the floor almost hidden by a book case in the hall. What is going on here? There had to be a dozen bald Barbie dolls somewhere. Then a saw the mother lode – a pile of hair shoved behind the trash can in the girls’ bedroom. I reached for it and realized with a shock this was not doll hair. This was long beautiful little girl hair!

“NEIL!!” I yelled. He came running upstairs in terror as Jackie opened her eyes and said, “Hi Mom.”

“Jackie, where did all this hair come from?” I asked angrily as I held a fist full out to her.

“I don’t know,” she said. Now Jordan was awake too. “What’s going on?” she asked, still half asleep.

“That’s what I am trying to find out,” I countered irritably. “Where did all this hair come from?” They looked at each other but neither said a word. Finally Jordan said, “We don’t know, Mom.”

“One of you knows what happened and I am going to stand here till you tell me”. Despite that threat, neither one confessed. Neil convinced me to let them go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning.

The next day when they came down to breakfast I was prepared for the interrogation. “Are you ready to tell me what happened?” I asked. Silence. “Ok, two little girls are going to lose privileges if I don’t hear something soon.”

After they finished eating, I reached for Jordan’s ponytail to brush it out before preschool. When I loosened the elastic my jaw dropped. It hadn’t been noticeable when it was all wrapped up in a messed-up toddler ponytail, but now I could see a great big square cut out of the back of her foot long hair – a chunk missing all the way to the nape of her neck. I was livid! In tears, she said, “Mommy, Jackie made me pretty.”

“Pretty? No she did not! Jackie, look what you’ve done!! “

Now they were both crying, and Jackie said, “Daddy told us we could play whatever we wanted as long as we were ready for bed on time. And Jordan wanted to play beauty parlor so her hair would be nice when you came home.”

How could I be mad at two innocent little girls? No, the real person to blame was the man who let it all happen in the first place. As the girls ran upstairs the look on his face told me he knew what was coming.

“Neil, I am furious you can’t keep control over the house when I am at work!” I yelled. “Don’t you mean you’re furious YOU can’t control the house while you’re at work?” he yelled right back.

Ouch. And true.

What is it about this intense need to be in control? Plenty of us suffer from it. Control is an illusion we create to feel safe, to convince ourselves that life is predictable: “If I do this, then that will happen.” When I am in control, I feel secure. I don’t have to worry or be afraid. It’s reassuring to believe things are as they should be. Such a deception! When I try to control situations or other people I am almost guaranteed to be disappointed.

We tend to think the opposite of control is helplessness, powerless, weakness. Giving up the need for control doesn’t mean I am any of those things!

It means I recognize that I am the only person I can control. Did I really have to behave so badly? It means I relax and pay attention to what is truly important. Does it really matter which way the towels are folded as long as they get put away?  It means I accept that God is the only one who is really in control, and I trust in His goodness. Five year old Jackie was playing sweet big sister to three year old Jordan and made her feel beautiful. Why did I let my anger ruin that?

Until I give up the intense need to be in control I will never find peace. Until I accept that God is the only One who is in control I will waste precious time and energy trying to do the impossible.

                                            Many are the plans of the human heart,
                      but it is the decision of the Lord that endures (Proverbs 19:21).

So I will do my best to remember: Just because God is in control doesn’t mean I’m out of control.


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    1. I don’t think any of us do it perfectly Joanna – we just keep praying and trying to remember God’s got it covered. ……

  1. Oh, Colleen, I remember so well the moment God jerked my chain to remind me He was in control, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a month after I retired. Now I wonder why it was such a surprise for me! Letting go seems so hard when letting God is so easy.

    1. Helen, God sure does have a way of reminding us who is in control. And, I have to admit, it is liberating when I can accept that its not me!

  2. So in tune with this coming Sunday’s Gospel – trust God, not man (ourselves). Being a work in progress as an admitted control freak, I know it’s so much easier said than done! Thanks for the insight.

    1. So right – way easier said than done! And thanks for the connection to this Sunday’s Gospel – I hadn’t even noticed that!

  3. Colleen, I could have written this just changing the names – ” I always folded towels into trifolds; Neil folded them however they fit in the drawer. I washed the dishes right after dinner; Neil washed them before bed, or even worse, before breakfast.” Those are things we’ve dealt with, too. I know I need to be more understanding and just appreciate when my husband does things.

    Oh, my, I’m sure my reaction would probably have been the same as yours regarding the hair situation. It’s hard to respond in a positive way when things look so bad and you are tired. But I’m so glad that God in His grace forgives and renews us.

    Many blessings to you! Thanks for sharing your story and helping mothers see that they are not alone. We all struggle with control issues. I’m your neighbor at #ThroughProvokingThursday.

    1. Hi Gayl, its funny how easy it is in a relationship to forget what’s really important and to get hung up on all those little things that don’t matter. Thanks so much for reading!

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