Control vs. Responding

Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)

Not long ago I mentioned that something was stewing in Ye Old Greg’s Head… and indeed it has been. Head, heart, you name it. It seems that many places I turn these days the following thoughts pop in for a visit. Sometimes short, sometimes longer… but seeming to weave their way through a bunch of different areas effortlessly.

I was reminded of this trend today in a conversation with my neighbor. They just returned home with his wife’s daughter – who is moving in with them for a while, going to college in the area – and he was sharing some stories illustrating how she does not handle change very well. Not well at all. 🙂 And I immediately thought of my sister, and a few other folks who really prefer to have a routine, and any deviation from that really, really throws them off.

“I think I have recently noticed,” I told my neighbor, “that people who don’t handle change well may indeed be personality-related, but I think it’s something we all deal with on some level. We need to control stuff. Some of us more than others. Some of that has got to be built-in… but I think a lot of it – especially the ability to go with the flow – is (or can be) learned.”

My neighbor completely agreed. Gave his dad as an example of “mellowing out”. As he has gotten older, he is much more “go with the flow”, “mellow”, or just able to deal with what life brings. Is this a personality? Is it a learned skill? Is it just life experience and wisdom from years on the planet? Maybe it’s all of them?

Whatever it is, I have noticed that I really, really prefer to try responding to instead of controlling my world.

Let me give you a few of the examples that I was talking about in last week’s teaser.

First, if you haven’t noticed (or if you are new here, and don’t know us personally) we do stuff a little differently. We never dated. We didn’t kiss until our wedding day. We have four children… and want more. We home school those same children. We love Jesus, and his church, but we don’t attend any “church” as we have grown up knowing them. All of that is a little different than the societal “norm”.

Recently as we thought about home schooling, Jen & I were just marveling at the idea of institutionalizing learning. It really baffles us now that we have been down this “home schooling” path for quite a while. See, home schooling does not mean school at home. We don’t have a set time for “classes” every day. We do have “table time” for basic math, writing skills, etc, but that occurs only a couple times a week (if that!) and we consider that only the smallest part of our kids education. The real learning happens all the rest of the time. Those things are just a few necessary skills for life. And really they aren’t learned during a “lesson” time… they are learned as they are put into practice in the rest of life.

Institutions teach us the opposite. The real learning of any value happens in the academic (institutional) setting. Knowledge must be passed along in a structured way, at a certain time. I think we were talking about the way NY State thinks they know what each of our kids should learn at what age. My sister lives in Maryland and had an interesting experience with the school system telling her to “slow down” with her daughter… she “knows too much”! Holy cow!

I know that there must be some value in institutions, but I am growing farther and farther away from that type of thinking. See, in that model, uniqueness of individuals is too easily lost. My son Ian can read like an 8th grader, writes like a kindergartner, does math at probably a 3rd or 4th grade level… and those are just the “academic skills”. Interpersonal communication – he’s off the charts. His memory is fantastic, way better than most anyone I know. He is very artistic, creative. And he just loves people, and is so good at considering others. But he’s also a huge goofball who often needs to be reminded to focus on what he’s doing. That’s quite a mix of levels there. But the state institution would have us believe that Ian should be doing A, B, C, and D – for 180 days a year, or some amount of hours – when he is a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grader.

What an institution is trying to do is control learning. It is the attempt by a group of people or a society to contain, package, and repeatedly apply with a broad brush something that I don’t think can be contained that way. Mainly because I think learning happens in life, and life can not be contained, packaged, or otherwise transferred en masse.

The same goes for the way we live today as the church. We have created hugely elaborate systems (ok, some are less “elaborate”) 😉 to pass along life with Jesus. We know it’s a great thing, and want everyone to experience it – everyone needs it, right? – so we have all these great ways that have worked in the past (or, we get the occasional “new” idea…) that we try to contain, package and then apply to the next person who comes in the door.

Just like with learning… life with God can not be contained, packaged or mass distributed. At least, not in my experience. God is living. An individual who interacts with each of us personally. Individually. You can’t say for me how God is going to lead, direct, teach, interact with me. You can tell me what your experience has been with him, and in many ways that may be similar to mine… but it can’t be neatly contained so as to repeat it again with similar results.

There’s the thing right there. We love the idea that we can control life. That’s what institutions are. Church, School, Government, etc, etc, etc. These are systems we create to manage people in a similar way to produce similar results. Problem is, we’re really not all that similar. I mean, we kinda are… that’s why it kinda works. But only kinda.

The alternative I have noticed is what God has led us into over the past several years. We have consistently been learning to structure and plan less of our lives, and to follow the daily lead of our Leader. We have freed up our schedule a LOT and that has allowed us a lot more time to be together as a family, with our four very young kids. That’s awesome! It’s given us the freedom to respond to last minute invitations, as well as offer last minute invites to friends/neighbors who pop into our minds.

Fewer plans also allows us to just enjoy where we are at that moment. We aren’t trying to accomplish some other things while doing whatever we’re doing. Jen just shared with me tonight that this week she has tried to stop doing other things while playing with the kids outside. And late in the week she finally noticed that she wasn’t frustrated anymore when Julia needed something, or Alex asked her to watch him do something. She was available to respond in the moment, not trying to follow a plan.

And as I mentioned above, we try to do most everything we do in a “responding” way instead of a “controlled” way. Life with other Christians (the Church), “educating” our children. I can’t even really write it, cause it’s just… not a thing. We don’t even consider it a separate area of life. It just IS life. Both of those things.

Is any of this making sense? It’s almost 2:30 am, and there are so many thoughts in my head on this, and so many occasions to which it has so clearly applied… I know there will be people who will misunderstand what I am saying and think that I mean that no good comes from a plan. Plans are fine. They won’t always work, but if that is known ahead of time, one can respond to whatever actually happens with greater ease. It’s not really that… it’s a general approach to life.

Do you want to go through life taking control (or at least, attempting to), or would you rather respond to life as it comes? The latter does not mean sitting on your butt waiting for life to come to you… it means in your heart, are you about your own agenda, your own purpose… or are you open and available for God to lead you to what he is doing in that moment? Are you able to respond to life as it happens, or just break down (like our neighbor’s daughter) when something changes that seems momentarily big?

I definitely feel like God is teaching me to respond to life rather than try to control it. And I have noticed that such an approach certainly requires a good deal of trust in him. But it also certainly offers great freedom, and peace, and I think the great “reward” of a richer, fuller life. At least… in the important things.

I am not certain that approach would lead you to be a good CEO of a giant corporation… but, who knows? If that’s what God wants you to be… he’ll lead you there!

I guess the question is… are we leading, or are we following the Leader? Are we trying to control, or are we free to respond?

4 Comments

  1. I think maybe that this is just your way (or I guess, God’s way for you) of learning to think of life more organically. It’s great, on the one hand, because it means more freedom for other people, more flexibility, and the ability to respond to your children without concern for being “on time” or whatever.

    On the other hand. I do see a strain of hyper-individuality running through the thoughts which is great, but it makes me sort of wonder a bit about the rest of us who DO go to public school or DO prefer the routine. I think the same sort of freedom you talk about can be reached within the institution, not BECAUSE of the instutution, but because of the way we as parents HANDLE it.

    See, as a missionary, I’ve come to think of my role EVERYWHERE as a missionary, not just in Australia or India or wherever. That includes at seminary, by the way, and also at the ice cream store where I work. And it makes me think, what if we taught our kids to be missionaries at public school? To treat the other kids a certain way, kids that they’d ordinarily never see if we home-schooled them, is a gift that teaches them others-orientedness and also servant-heartedness. And it involves lots of kids. I know you make sure they see some neighborhood kids, but I also wonder how keeping kids away from public school really helps them get to know the real world. Sure, just entrusting the school to do their part so you don’t have to is not helpful … but that’s why being INVOLVED as a parent with the kids is so helpful – you as a homeschooling parent are involved out of necessity, because if you didn’t teach, nobody else would, and you recognize that it’s important to teach.

    But what about telling a kid they’re special? You can only tell them so many tiems before they start taking it to an extreme. There’s a balance that has to be formed, and “we’re keeping you home to make sure you know you’re a special individual” is not the best message (not saying that’s what you tell your kids, but don’t know if it’s something they’re picking up or not, just a question is all). Individuality has to be meshed with community, with intentional subordination to a larger group of people; just as the individual is important, so is the community. And I don’t know that homeschooling – as it tends to be done, anyway – ever stresses community at ALL. Only the individual and their private concerns. So just like public school, homeschooling has its drawbacks. I’m not saying it’s WRONG, not at all (in some places, public school is so bad that you’d have to do homeschooling so they’d learn anything at ALL), only that certain things have to be done to balance it out with living in the real world where we are called to live as imitators of the missionary God who created us.

    Reply

  2. Dude, get some sleep!

    Kinda going with your post about rules… Just like rules are set up because people are stupid, institutions are often set up to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator. It protects them from getting crushed because they inherently suck.

    That’s what I think anyhow. I could be totally wrong.

    Reply

  3. Hey Chris
    I think perhaps you focused on a small thing in this post and missed the overall? Maybe not, based on your first paragraph (and some other comments) but really this was not about how “homeschool” is the best. I don’t even think that. Let me at least debunk some of the falsehoods about “home school” (even though as I said, I am not a home school advocate)…

    3rd paragraph…
    kids that they’d ordinarily never see if we home-schooled them
    This is the weirdest thing that people think about home schooling. Yes, there are some families that go to the extreme and live in a little commune away from every influence of the world. Most home schooling families are not. They just choose to do the education of their children themselves, rather than allowing that to be done in an institutional system. The families still interact with humanity the same way folks whose kids attend a public school do, eh? They go to the grocery, they go to Wal-Mart, they go to boy scouts & girl scouts, they play at the community center, they go to sporting events, they play in the park, the go to the library, they go to museums and other such events. And, as you mentioned… there are other people around, at least in most communities. So there’s just regular play with neighborhood families and such. So.. that’s just (sorry…) a ridiculous notion. At least when applied so broadly.

    but I also wonder how keeping kids away from public school really helps them get to know the real world.
    This is another one that completely fascinates me. The “real world” of a school? I don’t think there could be a more fabricated environment, except on a stage. All of the learning is academic rather than hands-on, and most of what I learned has been rather inconsequential in my life. Life after school, that is. And if you’re talking about uncontrolled effects of sin on life (bad influences, thinking, language, actions, etc) … I am not certain that’s “real life” either. I would prefer my kids came across that with me, eh? How is it a bad thing to limit their contact with things that we know are bad for them? We don’t sweep ugliness under the rug when we come upon it, but we discuss it with them as they encounter it… rather than them processing it on their own. They’re still pretty young to be doing that! Our job as parents is to help them learn to process as we do that with them while they are young.

    Individuality has to be meshed with community, with intentional subordination to a larger group of people; just as the individual is important, so is the community.
    This is an interesting, and less common qualm with home schooling. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard it stated exactly this way before. But I must say, I don’t think I can totally agree. I can a bit in that obviously “no man is an island”. We weren’t made to live alone. So interaction with your “community” is essential, to be sure. But where I can’t agree is that the community as a single entity is what we should be “intentional(ly) subordin(ate)” to. Jesus said love God, and love others as yourself. That is what we are trying to teach our kids by our words, and hopefully even more by our example. We intentionally consider others more than ourselves. (Philippians, I believe?) But I just think it’s dangerous when you consider a “community” as an entity more than yourself. When you submit yourself to First Church of the Churchies, or John Q. Public School… that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    So… that’s another perspective on the homeschool thing… cause I don’t think you see that very clearly thanks to your up-close personal examples in your life… 🙂

    As for the Campbells… we are not “home schoolers” in the traditional sense. Just like we are not “home church”-ing it. See, what we are trying to live out is the reality of a life lived with God, and in relationship to those he puts around us. Without the structures for those things. We don’t “home school”… we just don’t school. We think learning happens as you live. And so far it’s working brilliantly. We feel similarly that life with Jesus is just that… life lived with Jesus. It does not happen (only) at gatherings organized by some “community”, or even (only) in your specific “quite times” with him. It’s everything… not just the “spiritual”.

    Real life with him is where he infuses every aspect of all that you do. Just like you said about being missionaries everywhere… I totally agree. And we’re trying to do that, just not on our own mission. We’re trying to be available and listening to him daily for where He would have us go. Not that you can’t plan that… just that perhaps it’s more in step with him if we don’t take over and either try to lead, or even try to keep doing something that worked once, that might not be where he wants us anymore.

    Wow this is a huge response. I might think of more later, but this topic has come up SO much, and I’ve really been nutting it around a bunch (did I use that right?) 😉 So… I’m sure I’ve even more to say, but for now…

    Your turn! 🙂

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