Well, today’s a fun one. September 9th marks a year that our sweet Selah passed away. She was my husband and I’s first dog together, two months into our marriage with a house under renovation as “newly independent” adults. I remember the excitement of driving five hours to pick her up and finally getting to meet her as she ran out as happy as could be. That was my first glimpse of her… and in a way, also the last. A year ago, during our evening routine, she ran in the opposite direction and into ongoing traffic. The scene still haunts me to this day.
I wish I could say I’ve moved on, but with one loss after another pulling at my heart, the effects of grief have lingered in a different way. Since the loss of our first child, Joshua, seven weeks ago now, I have felt paralyzed by fear like never before. I can’t stop worrying that I will lose yet another loved one. Ultimately, I believe that God would strengthen me to get through it, but it doesn’t mean I want to handle loss all the more.
Maybe the real question is, do I really believe I will make it through even the most devastating of circumstances? Will Christ truly be enough? And will I trust him in the midst of it?
I suppose this debilitating fear of another loss is the indirect result of grief: a poisonous, festering symptom that aims to keep me paralyzed to go out and live… that keeps me from trusting that God is good and in control, and that I’ll be okay only because He is.
I’ve seen this fear manifest in the face of control. For me that’s looked like obsessing over the state of my current dogs and naturally, I’m anxious. Desiring control is a natural response to seek security in the face of uncertainty. But as my lovely husband likes to remind me of this gut-punching one-liner of a lyric, “control is not peace,” no matter how much I try to make it so. (Song link at bottom!)
Control is a funny thing. I wish I could make up some sort of clever analogy about it, but do I have to? One day you’re skipping along the path of life until boom! your brother dies. Whoa, where’d that come from?! Let’s keep walking… frolicking on down the road, perhaps taking a left turn eventually and bam! you have cancer. What!? That sign was NOT back there. Then next thing you know, the rest of the world comes crashing down around you too. My lengthy point is: we literally have no control in this life so why do we continuously act like we do? Control is morbidly funny in the sense that we frantically grasp at straws only to have the wind blow them back out of our hand.
When life throws you for a loop, isn’t it best to find some sort of sense of control, if nothing else but to stay sane? Isn’t that what I’m doing by obsessing over my dogs, in hopes that they’ll be satisfied and obedient enough not to try to run away? I mean, that’s what I fear since Selah ran out and got hit. I’m obsessing over factors that I simply cannot control all of the time. Let me be the first to tell you if no one else has… obsessing does not bring me an ounce of peace. Not the everlasting kind anyways, but the counterfeit kind that quickly shrivels up when I am triggered. And yet again I will try to control something else, and on the cycle goes.
So how does one stop this? How do I not worry over the unknown? How do I enjoy my life in the here and now? Or go into my next pregnancy not fearing every single thing I do or don’t do will affect the life of my baby? How do I, even now, not worry about bringing these words to light for fear that God would take away the source of obsession? How do I give up my control for true, everlasting peace?
Well, bringing these thoughts to the light is actually a really good first step. For me, that looks like being honest with God. When I kneeled down to pray, I waited a good five minutes because I simply couldn’t find the words to say… until I realized I was actually too scared to say them aloud. God has full authority of all the universe and everything within it, so who am I to question him? Or plead that nothing else would be taken from me?
But as soon as the words left my lips, my guard dropped. The emotions poured out. The waterworks were rolling. I could not bear the weight of this debilitating fear alone, or this curious anger of why things happen the way they do. I simply wasn’t meant to. Debilitating is defined as “tending to weaken” meaning that it literally weakens our souls. Thankfully, we can call on the one who will strengthen us. (Isaiah 41:10)
If control is not peace, then what is?
For some, this also means talking to trusted friends about our honest thoughts and that is so needed too. We were created to be in community. Whether that looks like family, friends, a counselor, whichever emotionally healthy individual you can trust, may we step outside the dark, crippling thoughts of fear together and expose them to the light.
My own therapist asked me, “If control is not peace, then what is?” And I thought of how control makes you want to hold a tight grip onto something. If that is the case, then the opposite of that looks like surrender… letting go of that thing. For me, it looks like letting go and trusting God with it. With that being said…
A good next step (that probably won’t be a favorite) is to acknowledge that you’re simply not in control — BUT you can look at who is. This may trigger more fear at first because frankly, well, it’s scary to think about! I thought over the losses I’ve faced in just the span of two years and really, they are like knives to the heart. It hurts, and it’s okay to mourn that. If all that has happened so far, what happens next?
Well, God is so good that he would never let us suffer alone. I thought of how Jesus left his throne in heaven to walk with us in the throes of life, knowing that he would be brutally tortured and that he would die. Let me say that again for the reader in the back… Jesus KNEW he would be beaten, spat upon and face the worst form of torture of his time. Nails driven into sides, he knew death was imminent and that the people he died for could read that and feel absolutely nothing.
He lived 30 something years of life knowing his fate and did not stop his mission. He did not run away from the pain. He did not let fear paralyze him. Though he prayed to God the Father pleading with him for a different way, he ultimately surrendered every ounce of control and said, “not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus could only do this as a meek human because he kept looking to God and did two simple things: trusted and obeyed. So simple, right? Ha! He never stopped communicating with the Father in prayer though. He brought his thoughts to the light. He trusted God’s character and plan and humbly followed. His character is sovereignly just, his heart is good, and his steadfast love abounds forever. He holds the world together and all things in it.
We’re not meant to understand everything because we’d live in a constant state of anxiety trying to figure it out anyways. But he has promised to work out all things for good for those who love him, according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) And that’s the true meaning of the verse (ahem Manifest writers)!
Lastly, but not least importantly, is that He doesn’t leave us alone. The verse that God spoke to us at the beginning of our pregnancy was Deuteronomy 31:6… the charge to be strong and courageous. The context is that the people of Israel were venturing into unknown territory with enemy nations surrounding them, occupying the land they were looking to move into.
How can one be strong or courageous when all they’ve heard
is that the road ahead will be hard?
God commanded the Israelites not to fear because He was going with them, and he wasn’t leaving. Ever. He gives us peace as he walks with us in the uncertainties of life. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
We can trust that no matter what we face, God is not leaving the people that trust him. And he won’t just let our lives fall apart without working it out for our good and his glory. Because I know who is in control, I can have lasting peace.