One day when my kids were preschoolers, we walked into our family room and found that a bat was stuck between our sliding glass door and the screen door with its wings expanded. Its evil-looking face was right up against the glass and looked like it was hissing curses at us.
Immediately, I shrieked for my husband to get rid of the thing and whisked the kids to the other room.
Peace to Turmoil
The following day, Ken and I were sitting out on our deck, drinking lemonade and watching the kids play in the backyard. It was a beautiful, peaceful moment. But then I asked, “Hey, what did you do with that bat?”
He said he had just scooped it off the door with a shovel, then tossed it out into the yard.
“And then, what did you do?” I asked—hoping to hear that he beat the thing to death and buried it six feet under. But no. He had not done anything else with the bat.
Just then my toddler leaned over to pick something up from the yard to put in his mouth.
It was too much.
I ran screeching into the yard like a crazy person and swooped up little Cole, hollering for the other kids to follow me inside, right that instant.
As I scrubbed the kids’ fingers and toes with soap at the kitchen sink, the thoughts swarming my mind were not kind. What sort of man sends his own children out into a bat-infested yard?! I went from incredulous to furious.
The kids were all wailing—especially little Cole, whose mouth I was washing out with soap—as my husband wandered back inside the house. I flew at him in a rage, ordering him to get back outside and find the bat he had flung into our yard.
“Shannon, that’s ridiculous,” he said, rolling his eyes. “That bat is long gone.”
“Did you see it fly away? Did you? Did you?” I was leaning forward with my eyes bulging, my finger jabbing the air. I’m sure I looked quite lovely.
Knowing things would only escalate from here, my husband went out and began pacing back and forth across our yard. It’s one of those ugly “Control Girl” memories I wish I could forget.
No bat ever turned up in our yard. What did turn up, however—with ever increasing intensity—was my anger, disrespect, and obsessive perfectionism.
During those years that the kids were little, I didn’t think of myself as controlling—mostly because I had such good intentions! I wasn’t trying to frustrate or exasperate my husband, or anyone else. I was trying to keep everyone safe and make everything turn out “right”! But as I lunged for control, trying to create my own version of perfect, I only made everyone (myself included) miserable.
I could take any sunny, lemonade-drinking afternoon and turn it into frenzied chaos—with kids howling, me ranting, and my husband responding in exasperation. I was trying to create safety, security, and peace, but instead I was producing just the opposite.
As the kids got bigger, my problem with control only got worse. Instead of keeping our small backyard safe and trying to control what they put in their mouths, now I wanted to control their school, sports, and driving environments, and I had more serious things—like alcohol and drugs—that I wanted to keep out of their mouths.
I wasn’t outgrowing this control problem. It was getting worse.
Though I wouldn’t have called myself a “Control Girl” back then, I knew I had anger issues. I had memorized James 1:20, which says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” but I don’t think I truly believed it. My behavior indicated that I thought my anger could produce righteousness—or right living.
Whenever the kids shoved each other or didn’t obey, I got angry. Whenever my husband didn’t invest in conversation or didn’t help with the kids, I got angry. I used my anger to try to gain control. Rather than waiting for God to change hearts, I wanted to. But like the verse says, anger can’t produce righteousness. It only spreads more anger.
My Anger’s Root
About a decade ago, God started using my anger to reveal my control-craving heart. I started recognizing that my surface-level anger stemmed from an underlying desire for control. So to rid myself of anger, I’d have to rip out its root—control.
I learned to ask myself a root-exposing question. Whenever I felt the anger rising, I would say, “Okay, Shannon. What are you trying to control here?” Or “What do you feel like you’re losing control of?” More often than not, my anger resulted from wanting control.
Take the situation with the evil-looking bat, for instance. What was causing me to be so angry? If I’m honest, I wasn’t throwing a fit because of the actual threat of the bat. My kids had been playing outdoors all morning, and if they had come across a bat in the yard, I have no doubt that they would have run to me in alarm. What I was really reacting to was a husband I couldn’t control.
I wanted him to be the sort of dad who doesn’t put his kids at risk. So by stamping my foot and insisting that he pace back and forth in the yard, I was saying, “How dare you fail to be the protective daddy that I want for my children? That makes me feel insecure. It makes me worry that everything’s out of control. So to punish you and make sure this doesn’t happen again, I’m going to throw a disrespectful tantrum. I demand that you be the husband and father I want you to be!”
Oh how my anger falls short. It only causes my husband (and other people) to resist me. But here’s what I am learning: When I settle this matter of control, it soothes my hot temper. When I fill my heart and mind with the truth that God is in control and I am not, it allows me to lay down the burden of controlling others. By ripping out the root of control, I pull out the weeds of anger as well.
And ironically, when I trust God to take control rather than claiming that it’s all up to me, I actually have more influence for good! My husband listens to my input most when I am respectful. He hears far more in a soft, kind request than in an angry, jaw-clenching demand. And most importantly, he is far receptive to God’s gentle leading when his wife isn’t screaming in his ear.
Finding Peace and Security
When my frantic, inner Control Girl says, “You have to do something!” it tempts me to fly into a rage every time. My craving for control is what prompts me to run ahead of God, stamp my foot, and jab my finger in the air.
But when I listen to the voice of the Spirit, who reminds me that He is in control so I don’t have to be, I find the peace and security that control never brings.
What are you frantic or angry about? Is there something you’re trying to control? Are you trying to produce in someone else what only God can produce? Today, what is one way you will surrender control back to God?
For more information on Shannon’s book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control From Seven Women in the Bible, go to ControlGirl.com.