Faith, trust, and control

September 19, 2008 | 9 comments

This post is part of the Flashback Series featuring posts from the site archives. It was originally published on March 2, 2007. I wrote it during Lent, after I had been extremely ill with a severe flu that my dad brought back when he returned home from his job in Abu Dhabi. I was particularly disappointed about the illness because I had expected such big things for the last Lent before we would officially become Catholic.

My flu symptoms are finally gone, though I’m now left with a raging sinus infection that leaves me with a constant, throbbing headache and heavy fatigue. It was impressed upon me how sick I’ve been when I went to the doctor yesterday to discover that I’ve lost seven pounds in the past couple of weeks…no small feat when you’re 13 weeks pregnant.

As I lay in bed last night, unable to sleep from a nagging cough, I wondered if there was perhaps something I could learn from this, or that maybe this illness directly coincided with the beginning of Lent because I was meant to gain something spiritually from it. I quickly decided that unless God was trying to reveal to me that “being sick blows” or “it totally sucks to have a sinus infection” that this was just a purposeless, totally annoying illness that did nothing but derail all my big plans for Lent.

I spent a while dwelling on how this illness has completely inhibited my spiritual progress: my big vision of having an extra prayerful experience at Ash Wednesday Mass, to get up early to pray the Rosary, to go with good Catholic friends to a Knights of Columbus Friday fish fry — all wonderful plans that did not come to pass. I’ve felt so rotten I’ve barely even been able to remember to say a few prayers here and there. But as I listened to this internal dialogue something jumped out at me:

It’s all about me being in control. It’s all about MY plans.

And as I thought back over the past couple of years, I realized that, in general, I have always expected to grow closer to God on my terms. I want a sign that fits my requirements at the time and place of my choosing; I want my first Adoration experience to be powerful so that I’m easily motivated to go more often; I want this final Lent before I enter the Church to deepen my faith according to the schedule laid out on my calendar, starting with a stirring Ash Wednesday Mass and ending with a movie-quality Easter Vigil experience. And when things don’t happen in the manner, time and place of my choosing, I promptly resign myself to frustration and despair.

I have never, I realized, been able to let go and trust in God.

Illness was not on my carefully-crafted Spiritual Growth Agenda for Lent 2007, so I threw up my hands and lost much of my zeal. This mentality is very typical of me, and I see now that it’s a major roadblock to faith. I don’t know if trust in God comes more easily for people who were raised in religious households, but I can definitely say that when you’ve lived your life as an atheist it’s hard to give up the notion that you’re in control, that your life is yours to plan and manipulate at will. Because I’m so entrenched in my role as organizer and leader, whenever I think of setting aside the checklists and the calendar and just prayerfully letting God guide me, I have this absurd gut-reaction thought that’s something along the lines of, “What if God screws it up?”

So, yeah. I have a lot of work to do. But I’m glad to have realized this because, looking back on my spiritual journey so far, it’s now glaringly obvious to me that I am not usually willing to fully (or even partially) trust in God, and that I’ll never become the person he wants me to be without it. I suppose I keep waiting until my faith is rock-solid and every single doubt has been washed away before I put too much trust in this mysterious God of ours. But perhaps that’s backwards. I’m starting to think that trust comes before faith, that God will draw me close as soon as I’m willing to admit that I’m not the one who’s running the show.


  1. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Beautiful as usual…

  2. critterknit

    For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think that being raised in a Christian church/religion/God-focused family (however you wish to put it) makes letting go of control any easier. It’s something I constantly struggle with. While I “know” that I’m not in control (in my head anyway), the knowing doesn’t automatically transition into my daily life decisions and viewpoints. It doesn’t help that I’m a planner by profession….

  3. Mchelle

    Excellent reflection. I was raised in a Catholic home and I still struggle sometimes with letting go of control. I always know that I’m not in control and God really is (and that God’s plan is best whether it seems to be working the way I want it to or not). But I do struggle with it in my daily decisions as well.

    It’s a hard thing to not be in control. As we grow up in this society, I realize that we are taught that we can do anything that we set our minds to and we do have control over it. A great lesson to inspire children, but somewhat flawed. Obviously it doesn’t happen if God hasn’t signed off on it no matter how much we want it. We just have to work on remembering that things always work out best by God’s plan in the end.

  4. Pam

    “…when you’ve lived your life as an atheist it’s hard to give up the notion that you’re in control…”

    Well said. Even though it’s been 28 years since I left atheism behind, I still battle that need to hang onto control… as if God doesn’t know what He’s doing.

    Maybe critterknit is right, that growing up knowing about God doesn’t necessarily take that struggle away… it didn’t seem to for Adam! Yet I wonder if spending one’s formative years thinking “I am in charge of myself” sets a person up for a different quality of struggle when he/she comes to faith as an adult.

    Either way, thanks for being willing to share yourself for your readers’ benefit. I appreciate your transparency.

  5. Crafty P

    wow. fascinating blog! happened upon you from WFMW.

    i know you wrote this post awhile ago, but I’m sure you’re still battling the whole “control” issue. I have to agree with everyone else in that regardless of your background, we all have this innate desire to be in control of situations.

    gosh, i battle this everyday of my life. I always attribute it to my being a first born, irish/italian catholic girl with a fierce independent streak!

    Blessings to you, I’ll be back to learn more about your amazing journey. I’m curious how long you were Abu Dhabi. I have friends from the states over there now.

  6. Courtney

    Hi, I’m a first-time poster here. I found myself vigorously nodding my head in agreement as I read this post – actually I find myself doing that with most of your posts. Your blog has been a real blessing to me; we seem to have very similar personalities and reading about your journey has helped me a lot with my own struggle to get back to God. I honestly feel unworthy of this, but if you or anyone else feels inclined to pray for me, I’d really appreciate it. I feel like I’ve made a big mess of my life and I have a husband and three kids that I’ve made mistakes with and I am struggling to grow spiritually while taking care of my kids (and trying to start telling them about God) and husband (and explaining to him why I want to change is hard, too). I love my family and I’m having a hard time. I feel like I sound pretty pathetic here, but maybe that’s okay.
    – Courtney

  7. Jennifer F.

    Thank you all for your comments!

    Courtney –

    You will definitely be in my prayers. Your honesty and humility are very inspiring. Thank you for your comment.

  8. Dean

    Since converting to Catholicism I have come to see God more as artist than computer programmer, more the poet than the engineer. The Creator must delight in all of creation just as the loving mother sees more in the world than her child. The child is loved and is central, but now and again the mother wants to lift her eyes to the stars and take delight from the vast beauty.
    The vast universe tells me how great God is and how small I am. This leads to prayer and praise.

    Dean in Wiscosin

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