The Wisdom of No Control

The illusion of control is powerful. It effects us in specific incidents -- like throwing the dice a little softer if we need a low number and a little harder if we need a high number (studies confirm that we do this!)

Stage 1: Confident Fixer
The illusion of control also permeates our basic assumptions and understandings of life.

As long as things keep going more-or-less our way, we'll never have cause to doubt that we're doing the right thing and are captains of our own fate. The illusion of control sets us up for a lot of pain when reality inevitably breaks through.

2. Glen's Story

Glen and Connie lost their college-age son, Eric, in a tragic accident. Glen, a highly-successful professional, writes:
“My delusions of control were destroyed on the day Eric died. My family fell apart. None of us knew we had been living life on the surface of a bubble until it popped. [Our daughter] Katie, who had been a talented and happy sophomore in high school, found it impossible to go back to life-as-usual....Connie, who had always been active in school, church, and community, stayed close to home.

Stage 2: Trouble
My greatest agony was in having no ability to ‘fix’ the despair of my family....Before Eric’s death I had suffered relatively little of life’s losses. I had thought I was in control of my life; now I knew I most certainly was not.

I looked around at others now – those who were living the way we had before – and I knew that they too, in their own time, in their own way, would have to learn what we were learning. We tried to learn it from the books. They helped. But we learned that the lessons of grief, like music or medicine or art or parenting or marriage must be lived to be fully understood. And so began our journey through the ‘awful grace of God.’…

Stage 3: Clinging to Past Strategies
Eric’s death pitched us headlong off our daily plane of existence into the darkness to be wrecked upon the rocks. For weeks and months, we roiled and thrashed in pain, submerged in agony, not sensing the light or knowing in what direction to turn....This place of hopelessness and fear is real, not a cute little allegory. Some people never leave that place and are broken on the rocks. Some people stop fighting and slip into the depths.

We came to understand that, although we do not have control, we do have choice....We can choose darkness, fear, addiction, and despair. We can choose light, hope, meaning, and joy....My daily mantra is, ‘Surrender and relax into the mystery.’

Stage 4: Dark night of the Fixer
Before Eric’s death my concept of reality had been that I was responsible for everything that happened, past, present, and future. But afterwards, I recognized that this could not be true. Even though I had dedicated my entire life to securing my family’s well-being, I had been unable to do so. And so, I dedicated myself now to having faith in life, no matter what happened....

Stage 5...maybe
Six months after Eric’s death, after twenty-three years with the company and following long discussions with my family, I quit my job. [About a year later] I accepted a vice president’s position with a small nonprofit fifteen miles from my home. It is a meaningful job, and I have a real passion for the company’s mission. It is so delightful to look forward to Monday morning after so many years of dreading the arrival of a new week of work....

Eric is always near. We see him in nature: birds, butterflies, rainbows, and sunsets. But mostly we feel him.

We are, each of us, Spiritual Warriors. We are awake, and nothing can break our circle. Nothing will ever be the same again.”
That’s Glen’s story. Through horrific loss, he learned the wisdom of no control and found peace.

* * *
This is part 3 of 4 of "Broken Open"
Click for other parts:
Part 1: Seeing the Blessing in a Crisis
Part 2: The Miracle of Becoming
Part 4: Pain's Surprising Lesson

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