The Control Room Blew Up

Have you ever felt totally incapable of making something happen? Like you're stuck in some small pit, penned in a closet-like space by circumstances beyond your control. Sure, you can still do things. But the things you do really don't seem like they'll ever result in you breaking out of the pit. Your efforts feel like they amount to running in circles around the bottom of your little pit. No real hope of anything useful -- like, oh you know, actually getting out -- but at least it beats sitting on the floor doing nothing. I guess.

I've had three such experiences this week. That's big. Especially for a control freak like me. And yes, I am a control freak. A classic, bona-fide, getter-done achiever type. If there were a 12-step program to cure people from control freakishness I'd be a fantastic candidate for attending. Except that I'd ruin the process by trying to take control of it. I can just see it now: as soon as I stood in front of my circle of fellow high-strung neurotics and said "My name is Matt Guerino and I'm a control freak", I'd immediately turn around and begin researching everything about how to stop being a control freak, so that I could grab this control-freak thing by the horns and whip it into shape.

Yeeeeah. Feel free to re-read that last sentence and savor the irony.

This is what made my three "impossible pit" scenes last week so hard. First up: last weekend was Sanctity of Human Life weekend. And truthfully, I had no plan for Sunday's services. I knew it was coming back in November, but the Christmas holidays were so packed with things at the church that I had zero time to think about this significant weekend. Zilch. Nada. And by the way, whomever picked January for such an annual emphasis sure didn't consult with me. You can talk about the anniversary date of Roe v. Wade all you want, but coming on the heels of Christmas makes for a brutal time for pastors to get anything planned! Remember, I like my control here people.

But the weekend approached, and as it did so did the conviction in my mind and heart that we needed to focus on abortion. I prayed. The conviction grew stronger. I had no plan. The conviction grew stronger. I had no time to pull a big shin-dig together - to control what the weekend was going to look like. How do you broach so emotional a topic with the right balance of grace and truth, especially if you don't have 3 months of planning (control) behind it? And I told God all this. Really, I did. But he didn't listen. The conviction grew stronger. Then all in a flash (well, over a couple hours anyway) I came across several things that made the weekend message quickly fall into place, including my friend Diane's testimony which I hadn't read in several years. The service was done, the message was given, and I believe grace and truth carried the day. Without my control. Hmmmmm...

Next up: a friend with a large family and modest income got hit with a big surgery bill, and a mere 4 days later was also told by his tax preparer that instead of getting a couple thousand dollars back from Uncle Sam, he owed a couple thousand. Over $5,000 in new debt slammed him almost at once. I felt horrible. We talked. We brainstormed. We sought control! None could be found. So, trapped in that familiar pit I simply prayed. I actually asked God to drop $5,000 out of the sky in one form or other, because I didn't see how anything would change otherwise.

The next day he discovered an error the tax preparer had made, and it turns out that a small refund is coming as he'd originally thought. That was a $3,100 swing, just like that. There's another possible mistake which could result in a larger refund, and some hope on the medical bill front also came through unexpectedly that day. Wham. Without my control. Hmmmm...

Finally, Amy's had a rough week. She was fighting a flu which inflamed her chronic pain and also resulted in a bizarre new back muscle pain problem, all of which finally culminated in a searing headache. She hadn't slept well, and I was powerless to fix any of this. Stuck at the bottom of a very familiar pit. I can tell you, it stinks. On second thought, I really can't tell you how badly that stinks.

I put Tommy to bed that night and we prayed that God would give mommy a good night's sleep - just that - although I figured that was virtually certain not to happen. She slept for almost 8 hours straight and over the next couple days made remarkable progress on all fronts. All without my control. Hmmmm...

What is the point? He is the breakthrough. Not me. The common factors in each situation were that I had zero ability to make anything happen (though I had a role to play). I prayed - as did others - and things happened.

By the way, there's a wrong lesson that can be drawn from this. The point is NOT that God will do what I want if I just ask him. If you read this and think I'm saying "just ask God to take your problems away and he will," then I'm not communicating. That's not it at all. He might, he might not. He is God. He does what he does, not what I want him to.

No, the right lesson is this: God is the one who both determines a path and enables progress along it. Not me.

I sit here writing this at 5am. I've been up since 3:15. Couldn't sleep. Like a lot of pastors, I suspect, I awoke in the middle of the night with concern for my church and the spiritual growth of its people flooding my mind. Couldn't get back to sleep. I'm encouraged by the example of the Apostle Paul (another control freak, by the way) who said that concern for the churches he planted was one of his heaviest burdens. So it goes, I suppose, in this church leadership thing.

So I prayed for a while, realizing that I'm doing everything I can and should be doing that I'm aware of, but that in the end I cannot make people grow in faith. That is not my role, it is God's. He is the breakthrough.

Maybe this energetic go-getter needs to learn that so that I don't contend for his glory, even unintentionally. Maybe the worst possible scenario for a church isn't that it goes nowhere, but that it goes somewhere in our eyes and people get the credit for that instead of God. He is the one who makes life change happen, and he gets the credit (glory) for it. It's his church after all.

Only a control freak would want it otherwise.


Twice as Nice said...

Thanks Matt. We sure are thankful to have you as our pastor. Last week's sermon/letter from your friend was amazing. You're great!

Ben, Jamie and those twins...

Matt Guerino said...

I LOVE "those twins"!! :) Thanks for the comment B&J, and for being such a great part of our church family! It is amazing to pastor such a fantastic group of people.

coolprof said...

Thanks for the great article, Matt. I know where you are coming from, as I was a control freak to the max. Sometimes I ponder the 300 (well, maybe 200) times God had to slap me upside the head until I finally said, "Oh, I get it now!" But, wow, how I deeply appreciate his loving persistence in communicating an important fact to me--he is the one in charge. When we accept that fact---that's when relationship really deepens!

Matt Guerino said...


Hear! hear! Thanks for chiming in with your experience of the same control freakishness. It makes me realize I'm not alone, which makes me feel more in control. Just kidding.

I appreciate the lesson you described, that letting God have the control that's actually his deepens our relationship with him. That's really the issue I think: being a control freak actually hinders my connection with God. I don't think we take that seriously enough; at least I haven't.

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