Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
When I was in college I began talking to a friend of mine about going on a road trip to Colorado. I had a small sedan at the time with a hatchback, and I was thinking that he and I could drive all the way out there and explore. Well, we started planning and dreaming about this trip and it was going to happen. We were in college. It would only cost food and gas. We would stay at campgrounds and eat basic meals.
As we continued to talk the word spread and more people became interested. Eventually, one of our friends who was a little older than us wanted to go. Now, he was out of school and had a job—in our eyes that meant he was basically rich. By this point we had outgrown my little car, so I said that he could go with us if he rented a van. Our friend would pay for the van then we would split all costs five ways.
Our plan was to drive straight to southeastern Colorado. Then we would stay for a night in a state park and then drive further west to the mountains. This first stretch of our trip was about 20 hours and we drove straight. We had this deal that at least two people would stay awake as we drove through the night to ensure that the driver also stayed awake. This was before smartphones, we didn’t have GPS and we didn’t have Netflix to keep us company.
As night began to fall, it was my turn to drive. And our little plan of having two people stay awake didn’t work out. Everyone eventually fell asleep, and I ended up driving straight through the night alone. It was really odd seeing the sun set, driving through desert in the middle of the night, and waking up to see the sun rise over the reddish brown landscape. When we finally made it to our campsite, we pitched the tent and everyone except me went off to explore. I fell fast asleep. I came to reflect on how much I enjoyed this time driving in solitude through the open spaces at night. There was something about it that was just a powerful experience.
To this day I enjoy driving. I guess I don’t always enjoy it, but I don’t mind it. There is something about the experience of being behind the wheel and beginning a journey that will lead to a destination. That’s probably one of the reasons that I don’t really like flying. Flying may be safer, but when you fly, you put your life and your journey in the hands of someone else. But when you are behind the wheel it’s all about you and the road.
Truth be told, this probably feeds my ego. When I’m behind the wheel it all depends on me. I’m in control of where the car goes; I’m in control of what is on the radio. Often times, I feel life is like this too. Often, I feel as if everything does depend on me. Preachers are bad about this. We get this inflated idea that the church can’t work without us. That’s really a silly idea, the church is 2000 years old and has been working just fine without me up to this point.
Do you ever feel as if everything depends on you? Maybe in your family life… You want to make sure that your family is ok and that everyone is happy, so you work to put smiles on people’s faces. You work behind the scenes to make sure all the family tensions are smoothed away under the rug. You work to avoid adding to any conflict. You change the subject when someone begins a sentence with, “You know, Donald Trump tweeted...” All because you see it as your job to make sure everyone is doing ok. If it weren’t for you, perhaps your entire family would fall into chaos.
Or maybe you are in school and are assigned a group project. I always hated group projects, because of my tendency to believe it all depended on me I always felt as if I did a disproportionate amount of work than other group members.
Or maybe you have a relationship with a friend or family member where you have felt that it all really depended on you. You are the one who makes all the phone calls. You are the one who makes all the plans. You are the one that is always asking your friend to do things. It’s not that your friend doesn’t care for you, but you feel that if you stopped making the calls the entire relationship would fall apart.
Perhaps you feel this way at work. Your whole department or your particular task would not get done if you weren’t there. Or perhaps you believe that even if it were to get done, the resulting product would be inferior or just not as good. So, you really do believe that it all (or at least the quality) depends on you.
This belief that everything depends on you or everything depends on me helps to contribute to our turbulent lives. If we could all just be free and enjoy things as they come, then it’s likely our lives wouldn’t be so turbulent, but it’s just not that way for most of us. Most of you like to maintain some type of control over whatever situation comes your way. Most of you, in at least a portion of your life, really feel as if everything is dependent upon you.
This will often happen when you take ownership over someone that is very needy or someone that is in the midst of an active addiction. I’m not talking about just helping someone, but about working to fix someone else. In the world of recovery, we call this codependency. In this type of situation, you take the responsibility for fixing the addition or behavior or illness of a child or a spouse or a friend. You take the responsibility because you know that they won’t do it and they if they are going to get better, in some sense it will depend on you. Sometimes people will get better, but only when they take ownership of their own recovery. What usually happens in this codependency just adds even more to an already turbulent life.
The hard, but good news in all of this is that you aren’t that important. Even though you think everything depends on you, it doesn’t. In fact, if you are trying to spin seventeen plates at once, you are going to drop something and things are going to break. I want to share with you a story from the Bible about someone who thought it all depended on him and how he overcame this trap.
If you have your Bible, I invite you to turn with me to Exodus 18:13-26.
This is a story about Moses. To catch you up to speed Moses is leading the Israelites on a journey. For generations they had been trapped as slaves in Egypt, but God sent Moses to bring them to freedom. So, after this happened, Moses is leading the people and Moses’s father-in-law, a guy named Jethro, heard about what had happened. So, Jethro is excited for Moses and the Israelites and comes for a visit to see how things are going.
13 The next day Moses sat as a judge for the people, while the people stood around Moses from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What’s this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people are standing around you from morning until evening?”
15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God.16 When a conflict arises between them, they come to me and I judge between the two of them. I also teach them God’s regulations and instructions.”
So Moses is holding court. He is sitting with all the people standing around. Someone gets mad at their neighbor, they come to Moses. Someone has a question about dinner, they come to Moses. Someone’s pet dog goes missing, they come to Moses. Someone wants to know how to pray better, they come to Moses. I think you get the idea. From morning until night Moses is dealing with the intricacies of this community. Really, he has built a system where everything depends on him.
Moses’s father-in-law asks him what’s going on, and Moses just tells him that all these people depend on me, and I’m just trying to help. The people identify Moses with God, and Moses lives into their expectations. He takes these burdens and duties upon himself. Now, perhaps, Moses isn’t tired of this yet, but if Moses is constantly doing this work there is no time for him to do anything else.
In-laws, on the other hand, like to give opinions about the spouses of their children, so Jethro exercises his role as the father-in-law and gives Moses his two cents: (Exodus 18:17-23)
17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing isn’t good. 18 You will end up totally wearing yourself out, both you and these people who are with you. The work is too difficult for you. You can’t do it alone.
Jethro kind of pulls his son-in-law to the side and says “son, you think this all depends on you.” Perhaps there is a little condescension in his tone, perhaps a little laugh. “You think you are so important, but what you are doing isn’t good. You are going to wear yourself out and these people are going to get tired of you.” Your life is going to become so turbulent because you are trying to do it all, and on top of that you won’t be able to hold it together and it will all fall apart.
19 Now listen to me and let me give you some advice. And may God be with you! Your role should be to represent the people before God. You should bring their disputes before God yourself. 20 Explain the regulations and instructions to them. Let them know the way they are supposed to go and the things they are supposed to do. 21 But you should also look among all the people for capable persons who respect God. They should be trustworthy and not corrupt. Set these persons over the people as officers of groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times. They should bring every major dispute to you, but they should decide all of the minor cases themselves. This will be much easier for you, and they will share your load. 23 If you do this and God directs you, then you will be able to endure. And all these people will be able to go back to their homes much happier.”
Jethro says, “Boy, you can’t do it alone; you need to get some people to help you.” You need to realize that it’s all about you; you need to let other people pull their fair share. You need to let others step up to the plate. You need to democratize the leadership and the work with other people. It doesn’t all depend on you.
Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites to freedom. Moses stood up to the superpower of the world and got what he wanted. But even Moses, at this point, realizes that it doesn’t all depend on him. Even Moses, at this point, realizes that the turbulence of his life is partly due to the fact that he has chosen to go it alone. It doesn’t all depend on one person, even Moses.
If it can’t all depend on Moses, it can’t all depend on you. You can help others, you can enjoy driving on road trips, but the happiness and the wellbeing of another person doesn’t depend all on you. You can’t single handedly make your whole family happy and get along. It just doesn’t all depend on you.
St. Ignatius of the 16thcentury has some advice for us. Well, at least some think he said this or something like it. Work as if everything depended on God, pray as if everything depended on you.
You can’t control the world. You can’t control all around you. You may think everything depends on you, but that belief is leading you to turbulence in your life. Everything doesn’t depend on you, everything depends on God. So let go of some of your control, allow other people to take responsibility, allow God to lead you and free you from control.
The best way to give up control is to pray. Instead of working like everything depends on you, just turn that control over to prayer. Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament tells us that we should “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St. Ignatius says, “pray like everything depended on you.” The only way to really give up trying to control is to allow God to enter you life—and give the control to God. This giving of control is a hard thing, but it is a good medicine that calms the turbulence of life. Let loose of control and hold on to prayer.
And like I said, the only real way to do this is through prayer. As I close this message about Losing Control, I want us to take the first step in giving up this control. I want us to pray together. I want us to pray a prayer often called the Serenity prayer. This is a prayer has deep roots in the recovery community, and it can help lead you to give up this false idea that everything depends on you.
God, grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is;
Not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.