Who’s In Control?

As you might imagine, in my counseling practice I see a lot of power struggles, conflicts, and misbehavior. Things are not going well, so people seek professional guidance to improve their marriage or family relationships. (I also work with people on “individual” issues, but this post will focus on relationships.) As I ask questions and hear descriptions of relationship and behavior patterns, I inevitably hear a number of ways each individual has contributed to the problem. It is also quite common to hear a lot of excuses and blaming to explain away the misbehavior (and misbehavior can certainly take on many, many forms). Let me get real, here. I’ve done the same thing myself, plenty of times. But explaining away poor choices by way of making excuses and blaming others is never helpful to the relationship or to either individual. Let me say that again…

Explaining away poor choices by way of making excuses and blaming others is never helpful to the relationship or to either individual.

Oh, it might make you feel better for a while by bringing some temporary relief. It might get you out of a tight spot, and feeling like you got away with it this time. But it isn’t helpful. It isn’t healthy. It does not help you or your relationship to grow. Enough with the negative language. If you really want to improve your relationships – with your spouse, your child, your parents, your co-workers, or whoever – learn to take full responsibility for yourself, your thoughts, and your actions. I’ll say it again…

If you really want to improve your relationships, learn to take full responsibility for yourself, your thoughts, and your actions!

Learn to be in control of yourself by taking responsibility for yourself. Remember, whoever you “blame” or hold responsible for your choices IS THE PERSON WHO IS IN CONTROL OF YOU. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to hand over control of my life to anyone on this planet, even my wife who I love and trust deeply.

Yes, as a Christian and a man seeking to live above my sinful nature, I strive to give control of my life to God each day. But turning my life and will over to God is a choice for which I must take responsibility daily, and involves taking responsibility for many specific choices throughout the course of every single day. God is there to guide and equip me, but He won’t take responsibility for making my choices. He has given me an incredibly powerful gift called free will to do with as I choose. Kinda scary sometimes!

And so, as you and I struggle with the choices, conflicts, disappointments, and pressures in the various relationships in our lives, I sincerely hope and pray we will grow more willing to take full responsibility for ourselves. May we resist the easy path of temporary relief that comes through excuses and blaming. May we instead choose the harder path of real growth that calls us to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I can see how hurtful this was to you. I am ready to change my attitude and behavior toward you, and will do whatever I can to mend the damage I have caused. I hope you will forgive me, but I know that is your choice. Either way, I am taking responsibility for what I have done.” You get the idea.

Now, I know we often find ourselves in situations where someone else has genuinely wronged us through their actions and attitude. When this happens, we have some choices to make. We can choose to proceed calmly, or we can choose to come unglued. We can choose to focus on solving the problem, or we can choose to dwell on thoughts of injustice and revenge. We can choose to communicate in ways that invite the other person to cooperate with us, or we can choose to say things in ways that make it very easy for the other to become antagonistic or fearful or a variety of other non-cooperative positions. We also have the choice of whether to own up to our decisions and behaviors, or to make excuses as to why we aren’t really responsible.

Which is most appealing – living as a helpless victim of circumstance with no control over your life, living under the control of someone that seems like a real knothead at the moment, or living in the freedom of being in control of your own life by taking responsibility for you? And two important points to remember:

1. While you can choose to give someone else control over you, you can always choose to reclaim that control in a moment. They may have power over your circumstances, but they cannot have power over YOU (your attitude and actions) unless you give it to them.

2. No matter how much you want someone else to change, and no matter what kind of authority you have or believe you have in their life, you cannot control anyone else’s attitude or actions, unless they choose to give you that control – which they can take back anytime they choose.

Who’s in control of your life? I hope you will choose to take control of yourself. The peace and freedom you will experience are amazing! Of course, I believe the greatest peace and freedom you can experience will come through using the power of choosing personal responsibility to yield your life and will to God’s will. I don’t say this to pass along religious doctrine. I share it with you because I am living (as imperfect as I am today) in this peace and freedom, and genuinely hope you will do the same. In closing, I know a powerful yet simple little prayer that is of great benefit in this matter:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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