Out of Control

Several years ago, as I was first beginning to work with teenagers, I took a seminar on eating disorders. I had, obviously, heard of eating disorders, but I’d never been very close to anyone who had suffered from one, and so I didn’t know very much about them. I was surprised to learn that many times, eating disorders aren’t as much about food as they are about the sufferer’s need to have control over some aspect of their lives. I can identify with that very much.

My older brother has always made sharp little jokes about how tense and uptight I am. Give me coal, I’ll produce a diamond in no time flat, supposedly. But I can see where he got that idea from. I was the little girl who lived in terror of making mistakes. Who lined her dolls and toys up in a perfect, exact order each night before she went to bed. And I turned into the adult whose books go on the bookshelves in height order, by genre. And whose DVDs are alphabetized. My life is a system of a million thinly-veiled attempts at control.

The truth is, I don’t really control much of anything.

A little over a year ago, I got a great job. And as is my way with everything, I proceeded to try to “control” it into submission. I was going to be the best employee that organization had ever had. And honestly, I was a fantastic employee. People trusted me and valued me. My superiors showed me their gratitude very often, and so I thought the situation was under control. I thought I had job security. Until the day my supervisor called me in to inform me, through tears, that they had just completed the next year’s budget and that there was just no way they could afford to keep me. And just like that, my “controlled” environment was shattered.

Bob Sorge says, “Many who are imprisoned by God do not find themselves in a literal prison cell, however. Some are imprisoned by circumstances, by financial constraints, by physical infirmity, by family limitations, and so forth. The common denominator is limitation and restriction, along with an absolute helplessness to change anything…The shackles may not be literal iron chains, but they are just as real.”

That job loss was a prison for me. I was helpless to change that situation. I went home and that very day started applying for jobs. But once all of the jobs had been applied for, all I could do was wait for God to move. For Him to open the door to my next job.

I was completely, utterly, totally out of control. And it paralyzed me. The day after my layoff, my friend, Andy, met me for tea. And I remember it being all I could do to shower and dress that morning. I sat across the tea cups, hearing Andy asking me what I was going to do next and thinking, “Oh, God, I have no idea what to do!” And listening while he gave me ideas. And finally being able to pull my frozen brain out of its stupor long enough to pull out my phone and tap some half-coherent thoughts into my note-taking program.

Blessedly, I was only out of work for five weeks. And at the time, they were a wretched five weeks of worry and sleepless nights. But looking back, I see the grace in those five weeks. In that five weeks, I got to focus a lot on my health – walking, doing yoga, and taking care of myself. In that five weeks, I got my budget organized better than my budget has ever been organized in my life. In that five weeks, I got to experience my friends pouring out their love and assistance – everything from new clothes in my closet, to leads on jobs (one of which is the job I currently have and love), to time spent listening to my worries. And at the end of that five weeks, I was a better, stronger person than I had been at the beginning.

Sorge uses an example from wine-making – about how wine used to be poured from vessel to vessel to remove the dregs from it so that it would ferment properly. He says, “The process of being poured from vessel to vessel, while unsettling, is thus absolutely necessary, if the wine is to be pleasing.”


Unsettling is exactly what it takes to change me and make me better. Unsettling helps me to remember that I’m not in control. And it helps me to know the One upon whom I can and do rely.

Last week, my façade of control was shaken again when I got up and turned on the TV as I got ready for work. I saw the news footage of the siege on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya. And as I saw the pictures, I realized that a little over three years ago, I sat in that mall and had coffee with my South Sudan team. My connection to that place shook me hard enough to change my perspective. All of these little things in my life that I am so worried about, so stressed about, so depressed about. All of these little things that I am trying to control. When you hold them up next to the devastation of what happened in that mall and the lives that were lost, those little things are so insignificant….

I’m unsettled. But one lesson at a time, I’m getting free of this prison of needing to control my life. And I’m slowly handing the control over to the One who controls it all anyway.

This post is part of a weekly book discussion on Bob Sorge’s “The Fire of Delayed Answers.” You don’t have to read the book to comment, but if you did write a response to the chapter, please feel free to run over to my friend and co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen’s place, to link it up at the widget. 

About Sarah Salter


  1. Amen… thats all I can say.. Love ya Sista.

  2. We want control so badly, but we weren’t made for control, we were made for relationship. And really if I had control, would I really do better than God? No, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking I need it! In part, I think that’s why he allows the situations like the ones you’re describing. It’s not bad to be helpless, to recognize our weakness. In that weakness, His strength is made perfect. Good stuff, Sarah. Thank you!

  3. Beautiful words, Sarah. You know I struggle with my own control issues…often in vain! But I am learning to release some things and trust them to the Lord. They are His anyway.

    You are blessed to be where you are and it is so obvious how the Lord has worked all things together for your good there…even in the unsettling times. Love you.

  4. Now I’m scared. My daughter displays some of the same “control” characteristics you describe. Time to ramp up the prayer life! 🙂

    Seriously though, control is an illusion in our lives. And most of the times the things we try to control are insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

    God is in control. And the best place we can be is in His hands… whether it be easy times or difficult ones. With Him we cannot go wrong.

  5. You sound so much like me- having a kid has really helped me realize I have NO control. My spices are no longer alphabetized, my closets are messy, my pantry is a huge mess but I’ve never been happier! It’s all God.

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    Jason, all of this is stuff I know. So, why do I still want control so badly?

  7. Sarah Salter says:

    Joell, thank you for the much-needed encouraging words! It’s hard to see, when you’re in the middle of the mess and the stress, that God is working things together for my good. Very timely reminder, Sister! 🙂

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Dusty, I’ll pray in agreement with you! 🙂

    Yes, control is an illusion. And yes, in the grand scheme, most of the things we try to control are the insignificant things. That’s very telling. It says that deep down, I know that I don’t control it anyway. 🙂

  9. Sarah Salter says:

    TC – Thank God for times when we realize we’re totally out of control, but we’re happy! That’s a blessing right there! 🙂

  10. Not sure if your question was rhetorical or not, but I’ll answer for me anyway. 🙂 I have come to the conclusion that I want control so badly because there is still way too much of me inside and not enough of Him. As spiritual as I can sometimes think I am, I’ve been seeing lately how much I fight for MY time and MY ideas and MY desires. Too much me in the way. I want to know the reality that I am completely crucified with Christ, yet I live–not I, but Jesus living through me. Thanks Sarah.

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