If I Understand it, Then I Can Control It

Our Western minds are trained to go down the path of explaining. We think if we can understand it, then we can control it.1

Emily P. Freeman

This quote from author Emily P. Freeman’s spiritual director reveals how much our lives are dictated by the need to control and the subsequent fear of losing control.

The desire to figure everything out, to fully understand, and make sense of my world is strong in me. However the events in our nation’s capitol last week proved that even more fleeting than the loss of control over my schedule and calendar (due to a pandemic) is any control I thought I had over the beliefs and actions of others. Four guiding truths emerged as I pondered Freeman’s words.

Seek Understanding

As we feel our control slipping away we seek to understand things that we can’t explain, like how a virus moves and mutates. Like why people would become enraged enough to attack our capital building. Like why we resist change and fight to hold onto power.

And that need is so great, we turn to any and ever source that will tell us what we want to hear. If we can explain why others are making the choices they are or behaving as they do, then perhaps there will be some control.

Instead, seek to understand. Especially one’s neighbors and why they feel disenfranchised, marginalized, or forgotten and how they come to different conclusions. This helps create empathy and loving service.

To this end I am trying to listen to voices that are not of my bent. I admit that when I see a headline that I disagree with, I want to disregard it. I am forcing myself to read them so that I can learn and understand why they think and act as they do. On some level, knowledge and explanations do help.

Accept the limitation of explanations

But don’t believe the lie that the explanation we find most plausible will bring the control we desire or relieve our fears. A clear answer rarely emerges. Research and reports vary. Two witnesses of the same event often report conflicting stories. Interpretation depends heavily on background, experience, and previous wounding.

I am learning to live with ambiguity and mystery, and lack of knowledge. When I get to this point of realizing I will not know the whole story, I go to my only true source of control.

God is the one truly in control

Grounding comes from the truth:

O Lord, you are great, mighty, majestic, magnificent, glorious, and sovereign over all the sky and earth! You, Lord, have dominion and exalt yourself as the ruler of all. (1 Chronicles 29:11 NET)

The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen. (Isaiah 14:24 NIV)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11 NIV)

I am comforted to know that my loving, good, and powerful God—who has my best in mind—remains in control.

I can control myself

Experts tell us we can only truly control ourselves. I can control my thoughts, what I choose to dwell on, what I read and consume, how I respond, whether or not I get enough sleep and exercise. I can control my speech and my tone of voice. I can stop my doomsday predictions. I can relinquish figuring everything out. I can live now in the moment and enjoy the mystery.

I turn to Jesus for help with self-control:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37–39 NIV)

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34 NIV)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)

In sum, I can seek to reasonably understand. When explanations are insufficient or the answers are confusing and conflicting, I embrace the unknown and the ambiguous. Then I remind myself to rely on the one who is in control and finally, I do what I can—I control myself to the best of my God-given ability.

In what ways are you feeling lack of control?

What are you afraid of? Name it.

What truths can you hold on to?

What can you control about yourself?


You are the Lord, and there is no other; apart from you there is no God. You promise to strengthen me, even when I don’t acknowledge you, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides you. You are the Lord, and there is no other. You form the light and create darkness, you bring prosperity and create disaster; You, the Lord, do all these things. (Paraphrase from Isaiah 45:5–7)

1Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019), 16.

Jennie Allen, Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts (Colorado Springs: CO: Waterbrook, 2020)

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