Control Syndrome

The recent hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and shootings remind us that we are not in control.

Still … we think we should be.

One only has to read through the recent onslaught of tweets, or listen to the news-anchor arguments surrounding the NFL #takeaknee protests to see this. We crave control.

I use the pronoun “we” purposely. I’ll confess that from time to time I have been a bit controlling. In fact, my parents gave me the nickname “Little General” growing up, because they claim I tended to be a bit bossy. My mom is a firm believer in cosmic justice though. Sure enough, my oldest son might be worse than I was. We have to remind him to say “please” about 6,738 times a day.

So I’m not immune to “control syndrome.”

Because I deal with it myself, I am attentive to its symptoms in others. Recently I watched a host on an ESPN talk show come unglued as he tried to talk about the NFL protests. He said he was deeply wounded personally by the decision of NFL players to kneel during the National Anthem. He equated his wound with that of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had just announced that he would bench any of his players who chose to protest in the following weeks. Jerry Jones made that announcement after being contacted by President Trump, who has continued to express his negative views towards the protest. Each—the news anchor, the team owner, and the president—hope to leverage the control they have to stop the protests.

And yet the protests continue.

This isn’t only problematic for public figures like these. It seems everyone has an opinion on the protests. Curiously, whenever something touches the nerve of patriotism, many find themselves as frustrated as these public leaders by their inability to relieve the pressure on that nerve. To control it.

This frustration expresses itself in a host of ways, from social media posts, to hallway conversations and Sunday School class comments.

Let’s set aside the reasons for and the object of the NFL protest (both of which I believe have validity). Instead, let’s simply reflect the response from many around us—public figures and otherwise—to the protests:

  1. I don’t like this.
  2. I can’t control this.
  3. So, I’m mad about this (and may continue to look for ways to control it).

Aside from the fact that our efforts to control others prevent us from truly hearing them (as with the protestors), we see here that those efforts also create a spiritual crisis. When we obsess over control, we are robbed of joy, peace, and patience—just to name some of the fruit of the Spirit. Often kindness, goodness, and self-control are tossed out the window too.

I’m fortunate to be part of the Contemplative Ministers’ Initiative, coordinated by the Siburt Institute at ACU. At CMI we would call this a lack of differentiation.

A differentiated person can observe, consider, and even respond to something without that something robbing their joy in Christ. I like to explain it like this: a differentiated preacher can get a critical email about their sermon at 9:45 p.m. and still fall asleep at 10:00 p.m.

So, how do you become differentiated?

Well I’m no expert. But I am learning more and more, that the beginning of differentiation is learning to accept what we are not in control of. When we encounter those situations that we cannot control, instead of getting angry, we should examine why our lack of control troubles us. Usually there are underlying sins, fears, or insecurities that need our attention more than the situation itself does.

As in this case.

So, let us not forget that the devil tempted Jesus with control. At the top of a mountain, the devil invited Jesus to look out on the world, and promised that it could all be his to control.

His response: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matt 4:10 TNIV).

Someday we will all forget the words of news anchors, football owners, and politicians. So rather than emulate their frustrated attempts to leverage control, consider emulating the one whose words have lasted much longer. Resist the urge to control, and you’ll be on the path to differentiation and Christlikeness.

No one will have to remind you to say “please.”


Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.
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Author:  Publish Date: October 20, 2017

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

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