The Illusion of Control

By Randy Kosloski

The Gospel of John is the most inspiring book of the Bible for me. I sometimes imagine the author of that piercing, poetic Gospel as some intense early Christian beatnik wearng a goatee and a beaded hat. I look forward to meeting the Apostle John in eternity. His opening verses are soulful ones. One verse says, “In Him was life and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). I may understand only a morsel of the full meaning of that text—but it’s a tasty morsel.

One thing John tells us is that God is intimately connected with us and the world. It is impossible to separate the good “light” of people and God for they are synonymous. In our world today people love to divide things. People tend to compartmentalize work and home, family and friends, or colleagues and clients. Perhaps, we separate things in an attempt to make our life roles more manageable. These categories are actually human inventions though. In reality there is only life—and one chance to live it. A friend named Pat taught me this.

I met Pat as he was preparing to leave home for college. Even though Pat was committed to continuing his education and looking forward to college, he was pretty sure his family would fall apart once he left home. The guilt he was experiencing was causing his emotional and mental health to suffer.

In mental health and social work fields there is term for people like Pat: parentified. This refers to a child, usually a first born, who has taken on a strong parental role in the family. Most of us have some degree of parentification, but those who are truly parentified become full-time parents to their siblings and even to their own parents. Parentified kids are usually outstanding individuals. They tend to be self-sacrificing, hard-working, considerate and mature—like any good parent should be. And just like Pat, parentified kids usually lack self care and the ability to find their own potential outside of their assumed parentified role. Parentified kids often find it difficult to pursue their own interests and live a typical teenager’s life—which is why Pat found it difficult to attend the college of his choice.

Since Pat’s parents were in what he considered to be a loveless marriage, he was confident they would separate once he left for school. In order to keep the family functioning, he became the primary line of communication for his parents. Additionally, he described his older brother as a self-absorbed, inconsiderate, occasionally violent, ego maniac. Pat acted as a social buffer for him. Without his constant intervention, he believed his brother would offend everyone with whom he came into contact. Pat was a peace keeper and his world revolved around keeping his family operating successfully.

Also, Pat was a gifted artist and had been accepted to a prestigious architectural school. Once Pat started pursuing this calling, he quickly became excited about the prospects an education promised. Having the freedom to pursue his goals was attractive to him, but still he felt guilty. As his departure for school approached, Pat became increasingly afraid of leaving his family and fearful of what it might do to them. However, God had something else in mind for Pat.

William Barclay’s, The New Dailey Study Bible: The Gospel of John, explains how John’s gospel is trying to create a unified understanding of Jesus for both the Hebrew and Greek. Barclay points out that John explicates Jesus as the personification of God’s Logos, or reason. He goes on to explain this reason as the rationale of God being poured into our world when it was created, and then later encapsulated in Jesus. God’s world is a rational one full of natural consequences—ordained by God and evidence of His control.

Pat mistakenly believed that he was in control of his life, and that his family’s success or failings were his responsibility. The illusion of control had a grip on Pat, and he considered himself the god of his own family. Pat needed to learn that sometimes the best help you can offer love ones is to offer no help at all. Sometimes, we all need to experience the aftermath of our choices. Pat needed to allow God, who is God over everything, to inspire change in his family through His natural consequences.

Together, Pat and I worked through a plan to let his family members realize the cost of their choices without his protection. We wrestled through the idea that this strategy was the best help he could ever offer his family, although he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with it. He began to see that seeking his potential would be the best encouragement for his family members to seek their own potentials. Pat moved along with this plan mostly because he knew he had to find peace with the decision to leave for college. He eventually understood that living out his values would teach his family how to live out theirs—Abram is a good example of this.

God had big plans for him and prepared him in advance, starting by renaming him Abraham, “father of many nations,” while he was yet a childless old man. I wonder if he might have had to introduce himself with this title even when it was just him and his old wife. Perhaps the reason Abraham was so successful was because he trusted his God and not his fears. Because of that his witness is eternally etched in the tablet of time. This should tell us that God wants this for us, too. We should passionately follow the path God lays out for us rather than attempt to control our own destinies, or the lives of those around us.

Pat needed to demonstrate his trust in God in order to show his family how to choose wisely.
When Pat and I parted ways, he was still in turmoil over, what was for him, a monumental decision. Despite all our discussions, he was still not at peace with leaving for college, although he knew it was what he should do. Pat’s situation reminded me that sometimes we must painstakingly overcome our fear in order to follow our God-given passion. By His grace, God will write well-crafted stories with our lives, not only because He loves us, but also so others may learn from them.

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