There are few times more frightening than when we feel that matters of great concern are completely out of our control. During the past year, when the world turned upside down by a global pandemic that creates even less certainty and control than usual, our sense of helplessness and desire for more control in life has increased for many of us.
But what kind of control can we reasonably expect to have, even in our own lives? During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that God is in control, and all of the worry and consternation we may have about life does not amount to much:
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.Matthew 6:34 ESV
Obviously, this is sound advice. We cannot change anything with worry, wishing to control matters that are not ours to control no matter how much we may want them to be. We are not absolved from the responsibility to act, as Jesus instructs elsewhere, but our actions are limited. As we act, we can take solace in the fact that God will make up for whatever shortcomings our actions may contain.
The problem is in determining what is actually within our control and what is not. The amount of our concern may be immense, everything from minor nuisances to global issues and everything in between. If we could roll them all into a sphere, it would be incredibly massive, perhaps the size of the globe. On the other hand, the amount of our control is a minuscule sphere in comparison, essentially amounting to what originates within our own skin, our words, our actions, and to a lesser degree our thoughts and feelings. Fundamentally, we can only control ourselves, not others. But there is a third “sphere” that is much more ambiguous: influence.
The amount of our influence is larger than our control, but still much smaller than our concern. Influence is not our ability to control, in that we cannot be assured of the outcome or resolution, but it is our ability to affect others who may be open to influence. If used well, we may be able to effect a situation or struggle in ways that we cannot completely control. However, determining when and how to use our influence, as well as to what degree it may be helpful, is the biggest challenge. How do I respectfully and thoughtfully challenge someone? When might someone else be open to my influence? When might my influence mutate into becoming more self-serving than helpful? These questions and many more do not have clear answers. Instead, we must engage with others to better understand their needs and perspectives, thereby allowing our influence to respect the spirit of God living in them as well.
So when faced with one of our many concerns, large enough to fill the world, first ask yourself how you might change something about your actions, words, attitude, or perspective to make the concern better. Next, look for ways to make a positive influence with others, hearing their perspective, and exercising influence that accounts for their concerns in a way that respects their right to disagree with or even oppose our efforts. Finally, develop an inner peace with the fact that many of our concerns are outside of our control and influence, understanding that those concerns are in the capable hands of God.
Interested in psychology or counseling? UMHB’s undergraduate Psychology Department offers classes that are designed to provide students with information which will promote an attitude of increased objectivity concerning the behavior, feelings, and attitudes of other people as well as themselves. Additionally, our Professional Counseling program helps students develop the skills to become a Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. We invite to check out our website or stop by for a visit!
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.Matthew 6: 32–33 ESV