I’m going to be talking about some of the aspects that often accompany the idolatry of self, or of trying to be in control oneself. This is the part of a series of posts that will cover guilt, codependency, martyrdom and people-pleasing.
I was a committed Christian from the time I was a child. I had Bible studies every day. I loved God! I prayed a LOT. I was super involved in church. But my faith was WEAK before 4 years ago – and I didn’t even see it. Paul talks about those with weak faith and how those who are strong must bear with the failings of the weak. Boy, did I have a lot of failings with which to bear! Especially for my husband.
I would NEVER, EVER have articulated or consciously thought this – “I am sovereign and God is not.” But that is how I lived. When I was about 5 years old, I mistakenly learned that I was SUPER responsible FOR other people. I thought I had a lot more power than I really did. And I learned unhealthy boundaries. So, I could go out of my emotional and spiritual boundaries any time and be involved in other people’s life because I lived as if I was sovereign and God was a wimp. So it was entirely up to me to make things work out right in the world. That was a LOT of pressure. It’s HARD to be a deity and to try to make things go right all the time. It is stressful!
I thought it was my DUTY to tell other people what to do because I believed I was responsible FOR other people. I thought this honored God!
Not that I was responsible TO them – there is a huge difference. We are all responsible TO other people for how we treat them and how we behave. But I actually believed I had to make other people do “the right thing” or they were doomed. And then disaster, tragedy, calamity and mayhem would surely result.
I learned 12 years ago or so that I was “codependent.” This is a set of behavioral patterns and mindsets that often happen in family members of addicts. No one in my immediate family was an addict. But I think with me being the dominant twin, and my sister being much more sickly and “weak” in my mind, I took over as if I were responsible for her when we were 5. And I believed I was almost a parent to her and then to my younger brother. I didn’t think my parents could handle things without my wisdom. I learned to be very overly responsible.
That worked great in school where I made straight As and got full scholarships. But it did not work so well in relationships!
I read about codependency many years ago – and I saw that I was trying to control others and that it was a bad thing to do – but I still didn’t really get how deep this thing was and how evil it was – that it was idolatry – the very worst of all sins – and how to get rid of it and what to replace it with. I had myself and my control as idols in my heart. That all needed to be torn down.
The 12 step book I read helped me some – but it did not go deep enough, or my eyes were just not opened enough to understand the severity of the real problem.
- I am responsible for my own spiritual growth and condition, my emotions, my happiness, my decisions and I face the consequences of my choices.
- Other people (grown adults) are responsible for their own spiritual growth, their emotions, their happiness, their decisions and they will face the consequences of their choices.
- It is safe to say how I feel and what I want. And it is safe for others to say how they feel and what they want.
- I can’t control other people, but I can set limits on what behavior I will tolerate and I can respectfully assert myself and ask for what I need and want. I can also respectfully confront sin by speaking the truth in love.
In dysfunctional relationships, the boundaries are blurred, nonexistent or backwards. Some or almost all of these things could apply (we’ll use the example of marriage, but this applies to other relationships, too):
- I am responsible for his happiness.
- I am responsible for his spiritual growth.
- I am responsible for his emotions
- I am responsible for his decisions
- I am responsible to keep him from facing negative consequences
- It is not safe for people to say how they feel to me or what they want.
- I can control him.
- He can control me.
- He is responsible for my happiness.
- He is responsible for my spiritual growth
- He is responsible for my decisions
- He is responsible to keep me from facing negative consequences (He must RESCUE me!).
- It is not safe for me to say how I feel or what I want.
GOD IS SOVEREIGN, NOT ME
It was REALLY important for me to grasp how HUGE, mighty, powerful and strong God is and how tiny and insignificant and weak I am. I had to come down MANY, MANY hundreds or thousands of notches. I had to embrace humility before God. I had to see the severity of my sin and the mountains of sin debt I owed to Jesus.
When I really began to grasp the limits of my responsibility and accountability and see that I can’t be responsible for other people – what freedom, joy and peace that brought to me!
I had to emotionally and spiritually step WAY BACK from my twin sister and other relationships and not be enmeshed with them anymore – where I was completely affected by what other people thought about me or if they were angry at me. I had to give the people pleasing to God in repentance – because that was an idol, too!
But what an amazing thing to be able to step back and trust that God was sovereign over my sister and her husband and that He was plenty big and strong enough to lead them in His will WITHOUT MY HELP!?!??!?! Crazy, huh?
I learned that God can and does use even our sins, even our mistakes, even our weaknesses and regrets for His glory when we commit our lives to Him and live with Him as Lord!
1. Before, if my sister was moving away, I would freak out. I would try to stop her. I would try to make her “see reason” and tell her what God’s will was myself. I could definitely see God’s will more clearly than she could, after all!
Now, when my sister and her husband move away (which they are currently in the process of doing) – I pray for God’s will, His greatest glory, for the strengthening of their marriage, for what is best ultimately for them and their children. I seek God’s will, not mine. And I trust that God will protect, lead, care and guide for them without my intervention. So I don’t get upset. I don’t get all in a stew. I rest in God’s sovereignty and love and trust Him to work things out for my best, too. I am happy for them and I am at peace trusting in God to work out His will in ways beyond my understanding.
2. Before, if there was a decision to be made in our marriage, I felt COMPELLED to make sure we did things MY way. I knew I was RIGHT. And, being deity and all, it was my duty to MAKE and FORCE things to happen properly. So when the heating and air man told me that I needed to ask my husband to clean up his messy garage so that he could get to the furnace the next time he came. I demanded that my husband clean the garage. I was mortified that other people were being inconvenienced by his mess. He refused. So then I – being sovereign and all – decided to take it upon myself to clean up the garage and I threw away trash and organized and worked myself to death on Thanksgiving night, I think. My husband was never one to raise his voice or get upset. He usually went totally quiet and would completely ignore me – even if I raised the volume a lot on my end to try to get him to be upset. But that night when he saw I had messed with all his tools, he was UPSET. What I had done was very disrespectful. But I didn’t see it. I knew I was right and he was being a slob and the heating and air conditioning man’s opinion counted a lot more than my husband’s because I was a people pleaser. I didn’t like people to think I was irresponsible or incapable or incompetent or anything bad.
Now, when there is a decision to be made – I just simply tell my husband what I want and how I feel. Usually, now that he feels so respected, he will do almost anything I want! How cool is that! But if he doesn’t agree, that’s fine. I allow him to make the call because I know I am not deity. I know that I want God’s will. I know that I don’t know the way to GOd’s will, only God does. I know that my husband is the God-given authority over me so I can trust that God will speak to him to lead us according to His will. And I rest in God’s sovereignty and don’t get caught up in having things a certain way or getting “my way.” My will is crucified with Christ, now I live for Jesus and His will is my goal!
So, last week when we were supposed to go to a party Friday night that the kids were looking forward to all week… but putting in the new front door took a lot longer than was expected for my husband – that was ok. In that case, I didn’t have a need to say anything. I knew that we both hoped to go to the party. But I also knew that our door had no knob or lock and those things were more important than the party. I didn’t have to push him or rush him or tell him what to do. I waited. I talked with the kids about that it might not be God’s will for us to go to the party that night. He has reasons we may not understand right now. But if we aren’t able to go, that is ok. We can still be content and we will enjoy what we are able to do.
And then it was an amazing blessing to watch my children internalize that lesson and be content. My husband apologized to our daughter that we couldn’t go to the party that night, and she told her Daddy happily, “It’s ok, Daddy! I’m having a GREAT time coloring! It must not have been God’s will for us to go.”
A HUGE KEY
If you are struggling with wanting to control other people, study the sovereignty of God and your own sinfulness and weakness. That will help you see where it is truly safe to put your trust and faith!
Now I acknowledge that God’s wisdom is vastly superior to my own. His wisdom is as high as the heavens are compared to the earth. And I acknowledge that my husband has wisdom that is valuable. My opinion is not the gospel. And my “wisdom” is not better than my husband’s or other people’s. So I am now able to approach God and other people with humility instead of those awful mountains of pride.