I was a serious Janet Jackson fan growing up. I even wrote a letter to her fan club, sent her my 4th grade school picture, and told her how much Rhythm Nation meant to me. I was a special kind of nerd.
It all started with her album “Control”: Janet in the black jeans, crimped hair, large mic headset, dancing and singing. She made being brown and having hips and being soft-spoken okay. “Control” was about letting the world and herself know that she was no doormat.
I listened to that cassette and the words still ring back to me all these years later, “When I was 17, I did what people told me.” My preteen self, who understood very little about the words I was singing, gave Janet some serious competition with my bathroom mirror concerts singing the song as loudly as I could.
All these years later, I still want control. I want to ride through life, hold it by the reins and control which way it goes. Like young Janet, I had to learn that a part of life means choosing, not letting the opinions of other people override the voice of God and my own soul. I also had to learn there would be many things in life I would not be able to control.
I can’t control how long I have to stand in line and wait for things. I can’t control other people’s feelings or decisions. I can’t use my calendar, alarms, and incessant planning to command the outcome of my life. The moment I start to act like a know-it-all is when I become more aware how much I don’t know it all.
My safety net when I’m stressed is googling, planning, and worrying. I have somehow come to believe that internet searches, excessive information, and setting a timer for things is my best way to survive in life. The results of this method usually end in sleepless nights, failing health, and headaches.
I’m learning when life starts to crumble, when all the crutches I’ve trusted in start to cave in, my best course of action is surrender. In theory, the word surrender brings images to my mind of Psalm 23, still waters, bubbling brooks. In actuality, surrender makes me think I’m supposed to do nothing about the looming problem that stands in the way between me and a good night’s sleep.
Surrender is an easy word to say but it’s a lot harder to do. Surrendering means I really do trust God to know and do what’s best for me, more than I trust what I think I know or understand. As much as I want to hold onto things or people or ideas or plans, I have to make sure I put my trust in the One who made the people, who gives the ideas, who conceives all the plans.
Surrendering is not a one-time experience. It is something I must do, every day, moment by moment. When I feel my want for control itching in my fingers as I type my latest concern, problem or stress into Google’s convenient search engine box, I remember that sometimes life is about doing but sometimes life is also about resting.
Not just the kind of rest we get when we sleep, but a rest we need in our souls, especially when we take all of the problems of life and carry them on our shoulders as if we have the strength to carry it all. There is only One who carried it all, whose shoulders are strong enough for any problem, disease, concern, worry, wound or frustration. His shoulders are big enough to carry today and eternity. God is the one who is truly in control.