Updated: May 16, 2020
“I’m so mad!” Ava cried as she pounded her fists on the floor and stomped her feet. This burst of anger was ignited by having to relinquish her spot on the couch. She wanted to sit in the corner, her favorite spot, while we read our nightly Bible story. Her brother sat on the opposite corner of the long couch. Both refused to move, yet both wanted to sit right next to the parent reading the story to make sure that they could have the best view of the cartoon characters on the pages. Neither would budge so we ended up sitting on the floor. I read the story while Ava continued to make her frustration known with her whimpers and sudden body movements.
Often, my reflex in those moments is to try to reason with Ava, to try to make her understand why I’m clearly right and why she should obviously listen to me. When the reasoning doesn’t work, I want to tell her to “just calm down,” which strangely doesn’t help either. As her anger and frustration remain, I become angry and frustrated at her anger and frustration. At this point, we’re both grasping for control.
This scene isn’t unique to our living room. It’s one we see played out over and over again on our social media platforms and in fierce political debates. People on opposite ends of an issue hold tight to what they want, what they think they need, and what they believe is best. We all think we’re standing up for what is right, but maybe we’re really just grasping for control. We dig in our heels and we raise our voices hoping that if we scream it loud enough, it will silence the other person and convince them to bend. Strangely, our yelling and criticizing doesn’t seem to help. It doesn’t bring people over to our side. Instead, the chasm only widens.
There must be a different way – a better way – to live together in a world where our desires impact the lives of our neighbors and so much is out of our control. There has to be some give and take. There has to be a willingness to listen and to consider the needs and perspectives of others. There has to be a pause long enough to stop pointing fingers at the offenses and hypocrisy of our adversaries and reflect on our own.
What would happen if we stopped to recognize the areas in our lives where we’re grasping for control and examined the fears and anxieties that lay beneath them? What would happen if we showed grace to others as they worked through their own? What would happen if we let go of our need to prove that we are right?
Thankfully, this time I didn’t give in to my reflexes as Ava tightened her little fists and clenched her jaw. I chose a different response. I stayed calm. I validated her feelings and tried to understand her perspective. Though I stayed firm in the boundary I had set, I let her feel what she felt, and I didn’t turn my back on her. She stayed angry for a while, but before she closed her eyes for the night, she smiled at me as I gently kissed her forehead.
In what area of life, are you grasping for control?
Consider praying the Serenity Prayer over that area of life: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
How do you normally respond when you are frustrated by something that is out of your control?
What would a healthier or more helpful response be?