Affirmation No. 5: I am not in control

Enjoy this monthly post by Reverend Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

I am not in control; I have been entrusted with responsibility.

“Get control of your child.”

I used to have this thought about other parents, before I had children of my own. My wife’s first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, which I’ve written about before and acknowledge that’s certainly something we could not control. But, thankfully, we went on to have children later.

We had a son in 2002.

And in 2003.

And in 2005.

In just under 3 years, we had three sons. Our first child was (and is) well behaved and predictable. Our second son was (and is) super easy to get along with. Our third son was (and is) the sweetest boy you will ever meet. However, combining the three of them is like splitting an atom. The amount of energy given off, for good or ill, will have significant repercussions for all around. Therefore, I gave up thinking that anyone could ever “get control” of a child. But does that mean that parents have not been entrusted with responsibility when it comes to their children? Obviously not.

Let me pair two sayings together that might help with this concept”

            “Only you can do what you can do.”

            “You can only do what you can do.”

No, it’s not a riddle. You can only do what you can do because you don’t have infinite control over others, the world, the news, money or the weather. But there are things you can do that no one else can do.

Who can be the father to my children? Only me.

Who can be husband to Kristen? Only me.

Who can decide if my dog is on a leash in my backyard or running wild in the neighborhood? Only me.

Who can work hard at my job today? Only me.

I have worked a few places over the years, but two places contrasted the most with one another—and I worked for both at the same time. First, I was a solo pastor of a new church plant that my family and some friends started from scratch. No one else ever drew their pay from the church. By default, we were tied for the smallest employer in the region (you can’t have less than one employee and still be an employer). At the same time, I was hired as a chaplain for Parkview Health—the largest employer in our region with approximately 11,000 co-workers.

In one place—the church—I might have been able to convince myself I was in control. In the other—the hospital—I have never thought I was in control. Of course, this affirmation is actually just as true in the church as it is in the hospital.

I am not in control; I have been entrusted with responsibility.

Was I really in control in the church? Of course not. I could not control if people fell asleep while I preached or if it inspired them to change the world. But I was responsible to speak thoughtfully and reflectively. At the hospital I was promoted to a director after a while. Was I in control then? Of course not. My leader is the president of the hospital. Surely the president is in control, right? He answers that question with the way he always introduces himself, “My name is Ben Miles, and I have the privilege of serving as the President for Parkview Regional Medical Center and affiliates.”

I have been entrusted with responsibility.

We can’t simply throw our hands up and say, “Well, it’s not up to me! I’m not in charge here!”

Mr. Miles actually encourages us to run our departments like we own them. To treat our jobs like we are entrepreneurs leading a startup that we believe in with all our hearts. Why? Because that will translate into giving our very best with the responsibility we have been entrusted with.

Parable of the Talents.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells what seems like a strange parable. A master leaves three managers with all his wealth. He gives one the equivalent of $3 million. The next he gives about $1 million. A third he gives about $500,000.

The guy with $3 million gets right to work with it and starts making even more money for his boss. The guy with a cool million does the same. But not the guy with $500,000. I used to think he was scared because he had so little. When you read this in most translations, it says that they had 5 talents, 2 talents and 1 talent. But a talent was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages for a day laborer.  One talent doesn’t sound like much.

So, I thought he was afraid he would lose his one talent. But, it turns out he still had a ton of money. Here’s how it went when the master returned:

I [the man with only $500K] was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours. But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Matthew 25: 25-27

They were not in control (it wasn’t their money), but they were entrusted with responsibility.

Competitive/Not Competitive

My oldest son amazes me. He is one of the most competitive people I know. When he was younger, he would often change the rules of the game while we were playing to be sure that he would be the winner.

He was basically born with a football in his hands. He was seldom the most athletic kid on the field, but he wanted to win more than anyone else. When he was really little I coached his flag football teams every year. I loved it. But being the coach and the dad of the most competitive kid in the league has its challenges. For instance, on defense Daniel always loved to rush the quarterback. You might already know this: In flag football you are not supposed to tackle anyone … ever.

When he was in fourth grade, about 10 years old, we were on defense. He was playing middle linebacker. He was the one rushing the quarterback. From about seven yards behind the line he took off, headed right for the quarterback. He was going for his flags … honest. But when you are 10, super-competitive, running full speed and reaching for flags that are hanging from the hips of your opponent, bad things can happen.

To his credit, after the quarterback asked his coach for the license plate number of the bus that hit him, Daniel handed his flag back and helped him up off the turf. The referee threw a flag.  After all, you aren’t supposed to tackle anyone in flag football … ever. As his coach and dad, I felt the piercing stares of the parents on the sideline. I bent over to my little linebacker and reminded him that in flag football you aren’t supposed to tackle anyone … ever.

A more astute coach would have not allowed Daniel to rush the quarterback again … on the very next play. But I believe in rushing the quarterback on every play. So, in went 10-year-old Daniel again. And I think he tried to not tackle the quarterback. But some trees haven’t been planted quite as well as he planted the quarterback … for the second play in a row. Coach wised up while the fans started yelling and Daniel sat out a few plays.

Purple Storm

When Daniel started playing tackle football, he was thrilled. He was tagged as the running back. The Purple Storm. That was the name of his team. The previous year, we learned, the team hadn’t won a game.  Or scored a touchdown. Some parents wondered out loud if the team had even gotten a first down in the six or seven games they played.

Well, Daniel’s first game, not only did they get a first down, the brand new (homeschooled) running back scored a touchdown. It was like winning the Super Bowl. Except, they lost the game. And, it turned out to be the only touchdown they scored the whole season.

Daniel spent three years on the Purple Storm and won about as many games as a three toed sloth can count on one hand. During every game he was just as competitive as he was on the flag football field when he sacked the quarterback (illegally) on back-to-back plays.

And I would think, “He’s going to be so disappointed. He will be so sad that they lost this game.” But here is the part that was always amazing to me. As he slapped his teammates on the back and headed to the car, he was seldom upset at all. In fact, I think dad took the losses harder than he did most Saturdays.

During the game, he fought, bled, cried, pushed, yelled, coached, hit and worked. After the game, his grimy face grinned as he took off his helmet. He worked as though the entire outcome depended upon him, but after the game, he knew it hadn’t. He had been entrusted with responsibility, but he wasn’t in control.

Winning and losing, as it turns out, is something we cannot control. Working hard is. And here’s the mysterious thing: The gift of remembering this truth is …

Freedom

Pleasure

And Joy

No one enjoyed those games more than Daniel. In fact, it was hard to enjoy getting beat week after week. But Daniel had always just wanted to play. Winning wasn’t required. It would have been nice, but he could play and enjoy it even when he didn’t win.

Reflection Questions
  • What are outcomes are you counting on?
  • Are you in control of those outcomes?
  • Are you acting like you have control of something when you actually don’t?
  • Or, is there an area where you need to step up and take responsibility?
  • Have you given up on anything when you need to remember that you have been entrusted with responsibility?

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