Abandon Control

Abandon Control

Today's writer is a former Communications Director in the U.S. Congress. 

You can’t control the great outdoors. They are wild, untamable. That’s how it should be. I needed that reminder desperately one beautiful and unusually mild fall day with my family hiking in the Midwest. And I need it today.

Working on Capitol Hill only fed my desire—no, my need—to control. It becomes a bullet point on a resume. Control the story. Shape the hearing. Achieve the outcome.

It means not just reacting to a problem, but anticipating it. Not just crafting a message, but ensuring it was reflected in the news clips the next day. Not just working with excellence—but expecting perfection.

Of course, the idea that we control our lives can be decimated with one phone call, one visit to the doctor’s office, one bad day for the stock market. But yet, I have lived my life, whether I like to admit it or not, functionally as if I could control things.

That belief system was seriously shaken last year. Although it was not the first time God walked me through this lesson, it sticks out as the hardest learned.

I was hiking in the woods with my family after flying home to take a breath from the hardest season of work I have ever experienced to this day.

Since I got by for so long thinking I could and should control everything—and appearing successful at it, I was not forced to acknowledge how the striving for control had worn me down. That is, until I had no other choice.

We had just come off months of hard work, then weeks of intense pressure with many high profile contingencies outside our control. I constantly worried. Even when I went home after a late night, there was never an end to the work day because I was always milling it over, dissecting it, gaming out scenarios.

Then, I could not do it anymore. I shut down. And I visited my parents.

That day, we walked beneath tall, regal pines, beside a peaceful lake and through a field of golden grass.

I looked around in wonder, thinking All of this is right here? Only minutes from my childhood home?

Sometimes you have to take a step outside your situation to actually see it clearly.

Capitol Hill is a cross between high school (where everyone kind of knows everyone else) and a pressure cooker. Just the amount of people hired to lobby and track and watch and interpret what is happening on Capitol Hill can make it all very inward-looking. You start to believe you actually are the center of the universe, and if you do not save the world (or fix the problem) RIGHT THIS SECOND, it is all going to hell. The world is on your shoulders, so don’t screw it up.

Of course the problem for a worrier like me is, you never truly feel secure. Even if today goes according to plan, tomorrow may not. I know enough to recognize I am not controlling things, I am chasing the elusive feeling of control.

Trying to control things is not just stupid—it is soul-crushing. It is spiritual.

Ultimately, this perspective is idolatry. It is a life built entirely around myself, and for myself.

The control mentality takes God from his rightful place, and attempts to put self there. It assumes his goodness is less than my own. But as a mere mortal, I was never created to control. No wonder it is exhausting. 

Abandoning control to follow Jesus is a relief because I was created to worship the one who is in control. I love this passage in Psalms:

For the Lord is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;

the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land.

God created the mountains. They are his. The valleys and the sea and this beautiful lake—they are all his, too. And all that is in them. There is not one thing that is outside his authority. The wild outdoors reminds me I am not in control. And I could never be.

Inside our houses and offices, we are in control. We can control the temperature and the environment with the touch of a button. We can build bigger and smarter homes. We can climb the ladder at work to get more power. But what happens when we are outside? We are at the mercy of forces we still, with all our 21st century advancements, can’t change.

A confession here: I have never been an “outdoorsy person.” It is all a little bit wild for me. I enjoy a hike, but I don’t yearn to get outside and spend my days getting… dirty.  Even writing a piece about the outdoors is stretch for me. But maybe that's the point?

In the end, the striving for control has utterly and completely failed me. But I have seen how Jesus does not give up on me. Instead, he is leading me into greater intimacy with him and a deeper understanding of his grace. He is drawing me into the kind of relationship that gives freedom to take risks for his glory when I have no way of knowing or controlling the outcome and speaks peace into fear and anxiety.

This is something I still deal with every day.  It comes down to the choice of will I forever attempt to control every aspect of life—living only in the safe indoors? Or will I experience the wildness of the outdoors and the chance to trust the one who created it?

Today's writer is a former Communications Director in the U.S. Congress.


Today marks the conclusion of our series on The Great Outdoors. Have you taken time or made plans to experience the outdoors yet this summer? Find insignificance. Abandon control. Let your anxieties about your work find rest.

How can doing so reshape the way you engage in politics? Send us a note with the form below. We’d love to hear from you. 

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At the close of a similar journal on Insignificance, we asked our readers to send us a note about their favorite places outdoors. Here's what one of our subscribers had to say. 

I’m something of a city guy now, despite having grown up in the country. My favorite place outdoors lately has been the National Mall. I enjoy seeing the monuments and I can feel the love of our country that so many architects, designers, curators, rangers, and more pour into these places. But what I’ve learned from it—and from seeing places like the Forum in Rome—is that it may be grand, but nothing is permanent except God.

It reminds me of ‘Ozymandias,’ by Shelley. The phrase that sticks out to me is ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.’ It’s a powerful reminder that all that we do politically may, someday, mean a monument for someone—but that even those monuments will crumble. Only the work that we do for God will last, and even the smallest effort in his service will be remembered long after the greatest monuments are dust.
— Liberatus Subscriber
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