I’m getting ready for a contest in a few days and I’ve been talking to someone who has himself competed before in it. He’s giving me lots of advice, including an invitation to think about what it would be like going to the world’s finals. That seems way out of reach and an impossible dream, but it got me thinking about how life coaches will often invite people to imagine where they will be or what they will do in 2 or 5 or even 10 years. To set ambitious goals and to strive every minute to keep that picture in mind.
Back in the 90’s I had lots of well-meaning advice from new age people who would tell me that visualizing was crucial to a happy life. They quoted folks like Deepak Choprah or channellers like Ramtha, or positive thinkers like Shirley MacLean who were rediscovering teachings stretching back as far as Plato’s Cave and the beliefs of early Gnostics.
They painted a picture of life as the big dream. If only we could be disciplined enough in our thinking, we could control the dream. As Shirley MacLean said, it was all a learning experience, and if we felt called to learn from the experience of murdering someone, as an extreme example, then maybe murdering someone was actually the correct action for our maturing souls as we reincarnated through many lifetimes. But disciplining our thinking to always envision positive outcomes would channel serendipity. Control your thoughts, control your feelings, keep everything happy and positive and the world will fall into place like an obedient child for the world is a daydream that you shape.
Not too different from Jesus being tempted in the desert. In a way, he is being tempted with absolute control over all he sees.
Jesus, you can have so much control over your environment that you can even change hard rock into sustaining bread. The world is a dream and you can tweak it to satisfy your every need. You will never again face any physical suffering or hunger. You control all.
Jesus said ‘no’.
Fine then, Jesus, you can control everyone you see, live in a palace, with control over politics, finances, countries, nations, foreign policy, immigrants, refugees, well, you could fix and impose your solutions on every human being. You control everyone.
Jesus said ‘no’.
Okay, Jesus, try this on for size, you control God and the angels. You become God yourself, ordering the angels to do your bidding, and you can order them to preserve your physical self at all costs no matter what ridiculous situations you might put yourself in. You will never pay the price of having a mortal body, for you are God and can be rescued from the pains and agonies of a normal human life. Even scripture says it will be so, and that must mean it’s okay if its in the Bible.
Jesus said ‘no’.
I think we all face similar temptations in our daily lives. Parenting educators have talked about how all children have a need for a certain level of control in their lives. Too much control going to the children and they become spoiled dictators, feel like they are entitled to do whatever they want whenever they want, and they do not develop any empathy for other people. As parents they enforce strict rules and value obedience over relationship. They crush their children’s initiatives and curiosity. It becomes all about forcing the children to do what they are told and that the parent is the boss. The parent has all the control.
Too little control in children’s lives can lead them into states of rebellion or depression. Sometimes its easier for them to be passive and they will feel like their lives and interests won’t matter. Sometimes they rebel and leave. They grow up being used to the idea that their ideas and interests aren’t important in the world, that they can’t make a difference, and even that they deserve to be bullied or dominated.
They can become disastrous parents. One lady I knew couldn’t understand why her teens were always rummaging around in her purse. They were looking for the illegal drugs she had stored there so they could get high because they knew there would be no consequences from her. Other people would let their children get drunk at parties because an eight-year-old staggering around was cute entertainment to them. Alcoholics sometimes talk about how wonderful it was to finally get attention that way, and how it contributed to becoming an alcoholic. No rules are as disastrous as too many rules. No control is as bad as too much control.
Where are we on this spectrum? Do we try to dominate conversations or decisions or do we spend all our time listening? Do we think that everything is all our fault, or everything is everyone else’s fault? Do we bounce back and forth between too much control and not enough, with wild swings between the two extremes, confusing everyone around us?
Jesus didn’t choose passive aggressive ways of controlling the world and humanity. He did say yes to taking responsibility for his own choices. Sometimes a little hunger is good for the soul. It builds solidarity with the people who are always hungry. We do not live by bread alone, but by reflecting on life and our relationship with God.
Jesus chose invitation instead of dictatorship. Rather than bossing others, he listened with empathy, and reached out in love. He would also call a spade a spade and call out bullying behavior when he saw it.
And he chose to live in relationship with God and the natural laws of the universe that he lived in. How tempting that must have been to be invited to change the very foundation of the world. He chose to be responsible for his choices, rather than expecting rescue at the last minute like a bad author throwing in a deus ex machina.
Let us take time this week to explore our own relationship with control, listen for the tempting voice that wants to lead us into all or nothing thinking and practise like Jesus saying no to the unhealthy temptations to control what is outside of us, and saying yes to the things that help us practise appropriate control through prayer, reflection, and scripture on this Lenten journey.