Losing Control and Finding My Life

 

I woke up in the morning with the same thoughts flying through my mind that had been there when I drifted off to sleep the night before.

“How could I get the senior leadership team to see my vision for the competitive landscape? Why were they were focused on such minor tactical issues?”

“What relationship dynamics and other internal politics considerations were at play?”

“How could I leverage the corporate situation for the benefit of my career ambitions?”

I was a Marketing Director at a large company. After a young career filled with a steady run of professional successes, I was running into brick walls made from the increasing complexity of corporate politics mixed with my own impatience and pride. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my sense of self worth and overall identity was completely wrapped up in striving for professional accomplishments. Each promotion, pay bump, or increase in responsibilities was the validation I craved for my life.

I was frustrated as the career I wanted seemed to be approaching stall speed, and I spent my time outside of work thinking about how to influence my situation at work.

Looking Back

I was also a Christian. My Christian career arc had looked like this: I grew up very much “in the church” and was “saved” at a young age. I associated my faith with being good and trying hard. I was aware of the love of God as a theoretical idea, but that awareness was not something that truly felt real. As I went off to college, my life did not much resemble that of a Christian. That’s not entirely surprising in hindsight, as my faith wasn’t something that truly shaped who I was as a person. It’s true that God was always there as a voice in the back of my mind, but I did my best to ignore that voice.

After college, that voice became harder and harder to ignore completely. God pursues us, and that pursuit started to catch up to me. A few years after graduating from college, I was going to church regularly again and even served as an Elder in my church.

My faith was back on track, or at least on the same path it had been. I tried hard and tried to do what was “right”. I didn’t seek the approval of others as much as I sought my own approval for a life well lived. I also had no idea what it looked like to surrender control of my decisions to a God who is our provider and who loves us. Instead, I cared deeply about my self-image. Professional accomplishments measured by things like career progression and salary were a big part of my self-worth, but so were things like a good marriage and being a person who had “it” together.

So, there I was, waking up that morning with the same manic scenarios of plans, contingency plans, and back-up contingency plans bouncing in my brain. I headed to the bathroom and stepped into the shower with the same internal dialogue underway in my mind. I was miserable, although I didn’t fully realize that at the time. I was also about to get a wakeup call that I didn’t see coming.

Waking Up

The shower was where I did a lot of my “best” thinking. I’ve always been someone who enjoys planning and forecasting, and it was nice to do that in the comforts of a warm shower.

As the water poured down, my internal grasping thoughts were entirely focused on how I could influence and control situations towards my benefit. This was consistent with my general approach towards things – I was driven to push my life in the direction that I wanted it to go.

Suddenly, the sound of the water rushing from the shower head mixed with the internal noise in my brain went completely silent. It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity of perfect quiet and I marveled and wondered where all the sound had gone.

And then, I heard a voice that was loud, clear, and strong that resounded through the perfect stillness.

Be still and know that I am God.

The voice was not angry, nor was it especially patient and kind. It just was. I was at once conscious of it being audible to my ears but also of it only resonating in every corner of my mind. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the voice was gone. I was left with another few seconds of complete and utter silence, and then I heard the sound of the water from the shower rushing through my ears again.

Getting My Attention

I was staggered. I had never been a person who hears from God. To be honest, I had always half suspected those people were making those stories up based on wishful thinking. But there was no denying this. I now know this is Psalm 46:10 but had no prior conscious thought of that scripture.

I knew immediately that this was God saying, “enough”. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I knew it somehow meant my life philosophy was not what He had ever intended.

I didn’t walk out of the bathroom that morning and change my life in a moment. God didn’t provide any other visible signs to help guide me in the following days and weeks, and I didn’t know exactly what to do. A few months later I left my job without much of a good plan. I was a broken person who was stuck between knowing I couldn’t make it all work on my own, but not knowing any other way to live my life.

Moving to Today

That moment in the shower was about 4 years ago. Separating my identity from my career, was just one of the first strongholds that the Lord has since been tearing down in my life. It’s been painful, unstoppable, and overpowering as I’ve slowly been learning about humility in the face of His overwhelming grace and love.

I’m learning to be obedient. I am grateful for God’s mercy as my obedience has slowly started to turn from begrudging submission into a willing surrender as I know in my innermost being that his plans are good.

Since that initial wakeup call, a number of things have happened to me that I never would have thought possible, including:

  • The time I had a conversation with a good friend about prayer, and I smirked a bit to myself when she told me that she prayed on her knees and I wondered who actually did that sort of thing. And the very next morning, I was forced to my knees sobbing and unable to rise, overcome with a sense of God’s glory and my insignificance in the face of his undeserved grace.
  • The numerous times I’ve wrestled with God about control of my finances. As I’ve been called to give to a level that challenges my own sense of financial security and desire for control, I’ve often tried in vain to ignore that calling. Now, I realize the truth of his amazing grace: God didn’t need my money – he wanted my heart.
  • The times I’ve read a Bible verse that I had read many times earlier in life and found myself amazed as the words finally started to feel real for the first time.
  • The time I first realized that I truly do not want to be in control of my life. That a loving God who sent his own son for us is a God I can trust wholly and completely.

Today

For me, June 2019 marks 1 year and 1 month that I have consistently been engaging with God through the First15 daily devotional. I had never been a person who had ever been able to summon the willpower to consistently stick to a devotion routine. But this quiet time for me each day is not something I do to address feelings of guilt, as I had treated other failed attempts at spiritual discipline. Instead, it’s become something that I need to do each day to get started on the right foot.

I feel so fortunate to have access to daily resources that provide a wonderful, challenging, and encouraging reminder each day that we have a God who loves us perfectly, despite our imperfections. It’s been something that has helped to fill me up and start to learn to live out of his abundance rather than from my own strength. It’s becoming a joyful journey through His undeserved love.


Zack Duncan |
Now in his mid 30’s, Zack has been learning how to surrender control to a loving and good God with the help of daily reminders delivered through First15 (he’s a podcast and app guy) and Tim Keller sermons. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, daughter, and dog. Zack enjoys golf, Abraham Lincoln books, good beer, bad dad jokes, and real conversation. He leads a small digital marketing company called Root and Branch, which hopes to help make an impact for good in the world.