Have you ever clung to something so tightly you hurt someone or got hurt?
When I was a child, my parents set out for the grocery store. Rarely did they both go at the same time, but they had my youngest brother with them and the other three of us were “old enough” to stay home safely for a few minutes.
In this story, I remember very few details—I have no idea where my older brother was, I don’t remember what time of year it was, and I don’t remember how old we were. But I do remember that my younger brother of two years, Andrew, and I were sitting in the living room watching TV after dinner, and I had the coveted responsibility of deciding what channel we were going to watch; I had the remote control.
Not too long after my parents drove away did I go get some ice cream, or some dessert, or something. I got up for some reason, leaving the remote unattended. And when I did, my brother Andrew leapt across the couch and snatched the remote from “my possession.”
Now those with siblings know that when you had control of something like the remote or a toy, you claimed ownership of it until the moment you left it unoccupied, then it became fair game.
For whatever reason, my brain forgot this well-known rule, and my dominion was lost. With his new control, Andrew changed the channel to something that I apparently thought was dumb or at least not worth watching.
I grew up with three brothers and not many girls in the neighborhood, so I was pretty rough and tumble. So when I decided I was going to reclaim that remote, not much was going to stop me.
After a bit of verbal exchange, I decided the best course of action would be to wrench the remote from my brother’s hands. Sure, he put up a good fight…well, actually, he put up a really good fight. Turns out, he was stronger than I thought. And as the adage goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
So I punched him.
Right in the kisser.
And he started bleeding.
Immediately, my brain panicked: Mom and Dad will be home soon. If they see this, I’m going to get into SOOOOOO much trouble.
So I went into Mom-mode, started shushing him and calming him down and telling him it was going to be ok. I ran to the freezer, grabbed an ice pack, encouraged (forced) him to keep it on his lip, and let him put the TV on WHATEVER channel he wanted.
Whatever it was going to take to make sure Mom and Dad never found out.
As 21st century consumers, we usually like to be in control. Not many of us like our freedom in decision-making taken away from us. Like right now: not too many of us are probably fond of the fact that due to a deadly pandemic, our lives have been turned upside down, or at least sideways or backwards.
We like knowing what comes next, what lies ahead, the next choices we will encounter or be asked to make. Control is something that we in first-world countries typically have a lot of.
Is that a good thing?
Should we as Christian disciples desire our own control over faith in something or someone else?
If we think of stories in Scripture, how many times did the apostles or Christ-followers feel in control? Truly, not many.
Jesus was performing miracles all willy-nilly, often in situations where there seemed to be a “right” answer, an answer that exuded control over the situation. Yet Christ would generally choose a different one, one that was out of their control.
Think about the feeding of the 5,000: surely the “right answer” was to send all of those people back to their homes to get their own food.
Think about the death of Lazarus: surely the “right answer” was to mourn Lazarus and spend time with his family.
Think about Peter: surely the “right answer” was to fashion tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration.
But no. Jesus had different plans for all of those moments.
You see, sometimes it’s tough to remember that God’s plan is bigger than our own. That if we just let go of our own control, He has something way better planned.
I think about the apostles after Jesus was crucified and sealed into the tomb. Can you imagine their fear of what was to happen next? In fact, the Gospel writers all commented on the fact that the apostles were mourning and weeping, hiding from the unexpected future.
The God-man who had come to save them was just slaughtered by mere mortals. How could they have any confidence, any comfort, any control over their own future if He couldn’t?
In a time when we lack control over the ever-changing circumstances of our lives, especially those surrounding COVID-19, let’s think through the next part of the story.
He conquers death and He comes back and He redeems the world.
And He leaves the gift of the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, our Advocate, our Comforter.
My friends, it is in our own lack of control that Christ works in our hearts, that the Holy Spirit has room to move.
There’s a tradition of the ancient Celts of the Holy Spirit being likened to a wild goose. As Fr. Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan University and founder of “The Ministry of the Wild Goose,” says:
Yes, there is a wildness to the Holy Spirit. The dominant images of the Holy Spirit are a meek dove or a flickering flame of a candle, both of which are in one way accurate. But the Holy Spirit is more than that. God’s Spirit is power and blows not merely like a gentle breeze but at times like a raging wind. Sometimes, this power makes us nervous. We like the idea of the Holy Spirit as a flame on a candle but a raging fire often causes anxiety. Our first instinct is to get it under control.
Brothers and sisters, what could happen in your life if you relinquished control? What could happen if you unfurl your tightly clenched fingers and allow the Holy Spirit to permeate the part of your life that needs His presence the most?
Not mine, but Yours, Lord.
Currently, there’s a lot out of our control. And therefore, there are many opportunities to ask God’s dominion over those issues, those sections, those pieces of your life. My prayer for you is that you will seek out opportunities to pray to the Holy Spirit. Invite Him into the far corners of your life, especially the ones with which you feel most comfortable or in control over.
Not mine, but Yours, Lord.
And do not be surprised when He shows up and possibly “wrecks everything.” The apostles’ vision for their lives were wrecked at the crucifixion, but when Jesus returned to them and then sent His Spirit upon them, the world was never the same.
[PS. Would you believe that us hiding the bloodied lip all those years ago actually worked?? Apparently, the first time my parents learned about this story was at my wedding rehearsal dinner. We were SURE they knew, but I guess we did an excellent job of hiding the bloodied lip that night. Way to go, Poundoo.]