Saturday, August 4, 2012

Control Freaks Part 3

Control for us human beings is not unlimited. Neither is freedom.

These words may sound like a heresy. But I think they're very true.

Control means that we have the power of choice. We can choose to do one thing, or another. Perhaps there are more than two choices, and we can choose any of them. We have freedom of action.

However, I've been saying for the past two days that our sense of control is probably greater than the reality of that control. If that's true - and I haven't seen any reason to believe otherwise - then our freedom of action is also more limited than we realize.

If our freedom of action is limited, then there are some things over which we can't exert any control. Back and around and here again.

For instance, there's a limit to how much control we have over our own health. There are plenty of stories about someone who was a marathon runner, or a life-long jogger, or an expert bicyclist, who suddenly dropped dead or was incapacitated by a heart attack.

Ask the person who's had great blood pressure all his life, and then suffers a mini-stroke. Suddenly he's aware of his blood pressure, and it's way too high.

Ask the person who's never had any allergic reactions to anything. Suddenly, when she's put on an antibiotic, she develops a nasty skin rash. Gee, she's allergic to that drug - who knew?

Ask the person who's never used cigarettes or any other tobacco how she feels about the diagnosis of lung cancer.

Ask the child who was healthy until one day he came down with leukemia.

None of these circumstances were expected. None of them should have happened, if our control was even somewhat effective. Outcomes are distributed in an uneven manner. And the reason why often eludes us. Even our knowledge is incomplete.

I'm hammering this point home because I think it's important to realize that our control is largely an illusion. Oh, we have some control over some circumstance in our lives, but even that control can be taken from us unexpectedly.

Ultimately, our control is temporary, limited, and circumstantial. In some situations, we have no freedom of action, except for one thing.

We can say, "No."

We can refuse to play the game of control. Not only do we not respond to the imperative, but we opt out all together.

For instance - in a case of terminal cancer, the doctors want to pursue an aggressive regimen of treatment. This treatment will be expensive, it will be debilitating, and it will only add a few months to what is otherwise a death sentence with the clock running down.

The patient, however, has other ideas. He has filed all the necessary documents - power of attorney, living will, Do Not Resuscitate order, etc. - and when presented with the option of heroic measures, he chooses to do nothing, but to let nature take its course.

Moreover, he decides that he will spend the remaining days of his life in his own home, his own bed, with the people who have surrounded him all his life.

I have seen this happen. I have personal experience with a man who lived life on his own terms and had no use for the doctors and their painkillers and their damned medicine. He died as he had lived, not bowed by the realities of his impending death but defiant to the end.

Now, he had little if any control, as we would normally define it. But look closer. He had ultimate control - he died in the manner that he wanted to. Even in weakness, he had power.

He had no false expectations of what lay ahead of him. He was a realist. And he was triumphant, if you like.

Our power games, our desperate seeking after more control, is ultimately defeated by our own mortality. This has always been the truth, the reality that governs this world. Jesus died a horrible death, handing over control of his fate to those who ultimately killed him. And yet, he had absolute control in his weakness - he returned from the dead, in a new and different form, and made his followers marvel at this in the days following his ignominious death. These men and women, so humble and so powerless in their world, went on to change the entire world. That one death and resurrection electrified disciples of Jesus to the point that they were no longer cowed by the thought of dying.

That's power. That's control. That's freedom.

Power and all its accompanying baggage - it's a paradox. It's a mystery. It's less than we think it is, and more to be found in weakness.

I'll have some final thoughts on power, control, and freedom tomorrow.

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