Control vs. Surrender: A Battle of Two Fruits

“Are you wearing basketballshorts?!?!?” I asked in horrified shock, turning my head sharply to get a better look at my ten-year-old in the back seat. 

We were headed to a nice restaurant for a birthday party, and I had clearly defined the clothing options. Everyone knew that basketball shorts were completely out-of-bounds.

“He’ll be fine,” said my husband.

“No, he won’t!” I said. “Turn the car around!”

My husband kept driving and calmly reminded me that we were already late. But I very un-calmly reminded him that our child in the backseat had openly defied me. 

“Shannon,” my husband gently coaxed, “Calm down. Nobody died. It’s going to be okay. . . . ” 

The Logic of Control

There is a certain path deeply rutted in my heart. I have stomped down this path many times, so convinced that it was the right way to go—only to repent with regret later. But in that moment it beckoned me again with the clearest of logic:

Your kids don’t listen to you! They don’t obey. And your husband just shrugs it off! What’s going to happen if you do nothing? Your kids are going to self-destruct, and your husband’s going to live to regret it! You are the one who has to do something! You have to do something right now!

 Fueled by the logic of control, I announced, “I’m getting out!”

“Here?” my husband asked in surprise. 

“Yes, right here,” I said with a bit of a snarl. “I’m not going to walk into that restaurant pretending that nothing is wrong. I won’t do it!” My husband pulled over to the side of the road, and I got out, slammed the door, and marched off toward home with my head held high, dismissing the fleeting sense that I was going to regret this later.

It felt intoxicatingly good to take charge. My kids needed to know that when I drew the line, I meant it. First it was basketball shorts; next it would be drugs or sneaking out or pornography! And what would my children become if both their parents shrugged at their defiance?

The sense of power surged through my veins as I pumped my arms in self-righteous indignation. I was putting things right. Yes, I was taking control, and I was right to do so. Everything was falling into place. I would rule over my children’s clothing choices, and all would be good and right and peaceful. 

But twenty minutes later when I reached our driveway, nothing felt good or right. Nothing felt peaceful. My heart had deceived me once again with wrong ideas about control.

The Sour Fruits of Control

Have you ever been gripped by the logic of control? Do you ever become consumed with the idea that you’ve got to do something? That it’s all up to you to make everything turn out right? 

You might not be the type to angrily exit a vehicle on the side of the road because of what a backseat passenger is wearing. (It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that I have sometimes been that type.) Perhaps your desire for control erupts, not in angry outbursts, but in anxious pacing, panicky fear, incessant perfectionism, or seething manipulation. For the record, control has cropped up in all of these ways in me.

Our deep-rooted desire for control can produce all sorts of sour, prickly fruits. But getting rid of control’s sour fruits will involve tearing out some of sin’s deepest roots—which were first planted in the Garden of Eden. 

Control’s First Seeds

In Eden, God declared one tree to be off limits. And by doing so, He posed the question, “Will you surrender control to Me?” God’s original design, even before the curse, was for Eve (and Adam) to live in surrender to Him—recognizing that He was God and she was not:



The serpent, however, tempted Eve to consider how this fruit would make her like God, deciding for herself what was good and evil. She didn’t need to defer to God; she could be like him—reaching out her hand to take whatever looked good to her. See how Satan was blurring the line of distinction between God and Eve in her mind?

God    Eve

Control’s Consequence

Eve was the first of us to be lured with the logic of control. She was the first to be confused by the idea that it was all up to her to decide what needed to be done and to do it. She was the first to be consumed with desire to make everything turn out right—and then to realize with deep regret that she had made everything turn out wrong. And remarkably, she fell prey to this logic, even in a setting where nothing actually was wrong. (Certainly not basketball shorts.)

When God explained the devastation of the fallout, it’s interesting that one of Eve’s consequences matched her offense: God said that her desire would now be to control her husband (Gen. 3:16). 

See the connection? Eve refused to surrender. By taking the fruit, she took control. So God let her become controlling. Ray Ortlund calls God’s judgment “a measure-for-measure response to [Eve’s] sin.”1

A Daughter of Eve

As a daughter of Eve, I am often so convinced that I can see clearly what is good and what is bad—both for me and everyone else in the car. Whether it’s something small like basketball shorts or something big like parenting, I feel this overwhelming burden to make sure that what I see as good comes to fruition in the lives of those I love. Repeatedly, I impose my logic with white-knuckles and slammed car doors. But as I do, I’m blurring the line of distinction between myself and God. I’m trying to play God, not surrender to Him.

Not all control is bad. That’s what makes this topic tricky. There is one type of control that is a sweet, delicious fruit of the Spirit: the fruit of self-control. Mothers bear this sweet fruit when they responsibly parent their children rather than shrugging off bad behavior. But do you see how my response over the basketball shorts lacked the fruit of self-control? I was trying to rule; I was not interested in being ruled by the Spirit. 

In those moments when I undermine my husband, pace with anxiety, manipulate in fear, or drive myself to perfectionism, I’m not reaching for the sweet fruit of self-control; I’m replaying Eve’s consequence by trying to control everyone but myself. 

So how can I tear out of the curse’s roots and fill my life with the sweetness of self-control—which has no regrets? Only Jesus makes a way.

Another Garden

In the Garden of Eden, Eve took control by reaching for a tree that looked very good to her.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus surrendered control to the Father by choosing a tree that looked very, very bad to Him. 

Because of Jesus’ grueling surrender (giving up control) on the cross, curse-reversed surrender is an option for me and for you. By the power of the Spirit, we can conquer our desire for control with supernatural self-control.

As daughters of Eve, we probably won’t outlive our desire to take and keep control. But as daughters of God, we have another (sweeter) conquering logic made available to us by the Spirit. Suppose I had (as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says) “counseled my own heart” that day I was fuming over the basketball shorts. If I could go back, here’s what I’d say: 

Shannon, yes. Kids obeying and husbands leading is ideal. But you trying to take control isn’t. Remember, there is a God, and it’s not you. He invites you to live like this is true.

Only God can capture the heart of a child or a husband. And only God can empower you with self-control. Will you choose to surrender to Him? 

What is causing you to erupt in anger or melt in fear? Is this behavior rooted in an unhealthy desire for control? What is God asking you to surrender to Him? How might surrender produce in you the sweetness of self-control?

Join me at True Woman ’22, a national women’s conference from Revive Our Hearts, for a breakout session titled, “Are you a Control Girl?” We’ll take a closer look at the story of Eve and explore five ways to lay down our burden of control, surrender to God, and flourish. Register today at!

Raymond Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991), 97.

About the Author

Shannon Popkin

Shannon Popkin

Shannon Popkin is happy to be sharing life with her husband, Ken, and together they have the joy of watching their three young-adult kids become the amazing people God created them to be. From the platform, page, and podcast mic, … read more …

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