The question for 2019: What can I control?

January 2nd, 2019

My husband and I recently returned from a long and fascinating cruise that eventually took us deep into the Amazon River. On multiple levels, the trip was eye-opening for me.

I learned about the gigantic Amazon rainforest and its essential, and increasingly threatened role, in global health. I discovered that my balance problems are getting worse but became, nonetheless, amazingly adept at walking around a ship that was rocking and rolling from the high seas.

I also discovered the extreme relaxation that comes from sleeping in such conditions. Now that I’m back on dry ground, I want my rocking bed back!

Most of all, I learned once more how little control I have over anything and how much I must trust others and their competence and expertise for my well-being. So many people — from airline engineers and crews to taxi and bus drivers to ship captains and specialized pilots who know the ever-changing intricacies of the Amazon River — made this trip both possible and safe.

Add to these the tour guides who took us deep into the rainforests, the chefs and restaurant servers who ensured my dietary restrictions were met, and the stewards who watchfully cleaned all public and private areas to hinder any possible infections that might otherwise run unchecked throughout the ship.

None of us live independently of others, and all of us can control very little

A foundational truth: there is no such thing as living independently of others. Nor do others live independently of us. Everything we do affects everyone around us.

Which brings me to the question I, along with many others, ask as we undergo the annual “do-over” moments of reflection that accompany the turning of the calendar from one year to the next: What will I do with the next 12 months?

The primary question: What indeed do I control?

Answer? Me. Only me. Try though I might, I can’t control anything or anyone else. I don’t have that power. And neither do you.

We have only ourselves.

So, what do we want from ourselves this year? Well, I’d love a toned, slim body, but frankly, my nearly 70 years display themselves multiple ways. I’ve decided instead to settle for gratefulness in my general good health along with a commitment to stay active in every way possible.

I’d also like to see a perfectly orderly house with not a single piece of unwanted stuff. Yeah, that one will not happen. I live with a man who likes “stuff,” and I find his well-being to be far more important than my particular compulsions.

I’d also like a garden always in bloom and pots that never get stopped up or plants that refuse to become hopelessly rootbound. I want seeds to come up on time and then offer their glorious fruit and flowers without restraint or too much care on my part. May as well forget that. Gardening is too much like gambling — one loses more than one wins.

Time to go deeper in our search for control

Hmmm . . . I’m going to have to go deeper. What is only dependent on me, not someone else or the world of nature and weather?

For this, I turn again to the Holy Scriptures, to the place that tells us what God expects of those who claim to have within the Spirit of God. Galatians, chapter five lists nine attributes, or “fruit” of such people: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I ponder the order of these character qualities. We start with love and end with self-control–the bookends. Within those boundaries of love for God and neighbor and the ability to master ourselves and our responses to the world around us, we find the other seven: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness.

As we choose to love and practice self-control, the aura of peace and gentleness hold us because love informed by well-practiced restraint gives us the freedom to have a life independent of the actions of others, even those that may seek intentionally to remove us from places of equilibrium.

Bounded by love and self-control, we may discover anew that we must be open-handed with patience for ourselves as we continue with faithfulness to push through our growing edges, thus giving space to offer that patience, flavored with gentleness, to others.

Shaped by love and self-control, we may discover the freedom for a generous kindness, even to the ones who appear to least deserve it—and are likely the ones most in need of a generously kind, non-judgmental touch.

Finally, we must not wait for others to be kind, or patient or gentle or faithful. Instead, we become the instigators. In so doing, we find our roles as healers of a world in chaos.

That is the calling of all who claim to be God’s people. Let us be faithful to fulfill it.

 Christy Thomas blogs at Patheos.

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