I have a confession to make. I have insomnia. Not the kind that keeps you up at night, tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep. Actually, I may hold some sort of record, falling asleep in mere seconds. I have been known to fall asleep mid-sentence. One time my husband called from another state after being gone several days. All of a sudden, I remember him shouting my name into the phone. Apparently, it had gone silent on my end. Yep, sad to say, I had nodded off on him in the middle of our conversation.
No, falling asleep is not the issue. For me, it’s staying asleep.
There are many nights I wake up after only a few hours of sleep, thinking I have slept the whole night. I look at the clock, expecting it to be around 6 am, only to find that it’s 2:33 am, or some other ungodly hour. Then my mind starts. I think about what I should have done yesterday and didn’t. I ponder the events of the day and week. Sometimes I rehash conversations, stewing over an unkind remark. I have been known to solve world hunger, but somehow the next day the answer is lost.
The truth is, much of my thoughts are actually unproductive. I worry and stress about things that are out of my control.
One of the most impactful books I have read is now classic in the self-help genre, written in the ‘70s by Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Brilliantly written, one of the basic premises of the book, the foundation that we need to build on to be effective, is to realize what we really control and what we don’t. When we try and focus our time and energy on that which we have no control, we become stressed, irritable, angry, and even depressed.
There are people in our lives we influence, such as our family and friends, possibly co-workers. But we really cannot control anyone other than ourselves. But what we do control is not unimportant; in fact, it is of the utmost importance. We control ourselves, our own actions, our own attitudes. A great amount of stress and anxiety comes when we focus on things we have no control over. A great amount of stress also happens when we fail to realize that we really do have control over ourselves.
Think about it. How many arguments happen when one person tries to control another? The truth-- pretty much all of them. How much stress and anxiety happen when we try and make someone else act a certain way?
In our home, there is a husband (father), wife, (mother), and five children ages 7 to 23, living under one roof. I would venture to say that all are good-natured people, not wanting to ruin anyone else’s lives purposefully. But if I were to tell you that we all got along all of the time because we let each other be the people they are, I would be telling you an outright lie. We have a lot of quarreling and tempers flaring on most days. Add hormones, low blood sugar, adoption, pressures of school, work, peers, et al--personalities clash. I am sorry to tell you this, if you thought that a pastor’s home is perfect. Let me burst that bubble for you once and for all. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to control each other.
Let me give you an example. Child A wants the last piece of cake, a certain shirt, to ride shotgun, the bathroom, the TV remote, etc.-- “called it,” but child B decided that it was rightfully his. Child B takes his “privilege.” Child A loses it. The truth is, neither one bought the cake, baked the cake, or had a birthday that week. Neither one owns the house, car, or pays a single bill. Both want the same thing, so they believe subconsciously they can control the rest of the household, make everyone respect their “rights.”
Child C (a teenager) believes she can control what other people think of her by looking and acting a certain way. She is certain that if her hair and makeup are spot on, her clothes are in style and cute, her shoes, backpack, and iphone are up to date, others will like her and she will be popular. Enter the uncontrollables. Little brother acts quirky around friends. Sister takes “the shirt” prepared in advance for the day. Parents don’t care about style and wear the wrong clothes, act the wrong way around friends, drive the wrong car, even live in the wrong house. Parents won’t give in to every desire Child C has for how the household income is spent, shamelessly neglecting important things like movie tickets, ski trips, updating the family car, and generous allowances. Child C becomes angry and depressed because she can’t control her lifestyle, her family, or her friends.
Here is one more. I have certain beliefs regarding morals, speech, attitudes, and actions. They are not random. I have carefully, prayerfully thought these through, and have come up with what I believe are very sound principles to govern my life by. But you, having been raised in another family, possibly in another time and culture, have come up with your own. I can respect that most of the time, until our paths cross and your actions and attitudes affect me. My first response? I want to change your mind so that your beliefs line up with mine. It’s not that I don’t like you or that I want you to suffer in anyway. In fact, because I like you, I want to enlighten you so that you can save time and energy and get on the right path that I have already figured out. I will now put my energy into changing you. I will subconsciously try to convert you to my way of thinking. The problem is, I can’t. But I will do my best and give you my best persuasive argument to win you over. I may even take more time and energy and post my opinions online so that I can rally more people on my side to try and convince you you are wrong. You might then get some people on your side to try and convince me. I have a huge arsenal at my disposal now--Google. I can cite many articles written by people I have never met to back up my opinions. Thus begins a messy social media attack.
The Bible puts it this way in James 4:1-3 (NLT):
“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme...to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
When we are children, the arguments are usually over simple things, like toys. As we get older, the items change, but the premise stays the same. Fights rage over clothes, make-up, electronics, and my personal favorite, private space. Eventually items are replaced by opinions and ideas. Two people want the same thing. Both believe they are more deserving than the other. They become experts in what they want, but are often blind to the opinions/needs of others. Hormones rage, tempers flare, arguments become more sophisticated and heated.
What we want most, we cannot have.
We want control.
We want to control other people, their time, and their stuff.
What if I recognized this and decided to make a change?
What if I focused my time and energy on prayer rather than persuasion?
What if I decided that it was okay to be wronged? ! Corinthians 6:7b puts it this way:
“...why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
What if I was secure enough in my own opinions that I didn’t focus time and energy on changing yours?
What if we stopped caring so much what others thought about us?
What if we just purposed in our heart to cut each other a lot more slack?
I’m pretty sure our stress levels would go down.
Pretty sure we would enjoy each other more.
Positive we would be a lot happier.
Might even carve out a lot more time for prayer and meditation.
There is only One who can change other people’s hearts. Let’s do our part and work on our own.