The family and I are on our annual summer vacation to the northern regions of the US. It’s funny how getting away from the everyday routine can bring moments of fleeting clarity. Many years ago, when I was still bringing my work laptop with me for daily e-mail checks, I decided to send a message to my boss relaying how I wanted to work towards a different position within the company. While making that kind of decision on a whim was probably not the best idea, it worked out for me in the long run. On another work-related trip to Baltimore some years later, I made the decision to begin grooming for a leadership role. That particular move did not work out quite as well, but it took the change in routine, the removal of myself from the minutia of my normal work life, to step out and decide that I wanted a change in direction.
The nice thing about our particular vacation destination is that it does feel somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, and thus, immune to the angst and turmoil being experienced by it. Through various world events, economic scares, and political maneuverings, this lake and all its detoxifying effects remain stoic. It brings a nice feeling of continuity, and a reminder that no matter what happens on the world stage, things are going to be ok.
My moment of clarity this year came fairly early in the week. I realized that I no longer had the compulsion to read the latest terrible news on CNN.com. I was able to breeze through my Facebook and Twitter feeds without any kind of emotional reaction to toxic, baiting posts. Yet, it wasn’t apathy that gripped me – it was simply that I had no control over the actions of others. We spend so much time worrying about what other people do or say that we forget that the only things we can really, truly control are our own actions. It reminds me of an exercise I once did (for either leadership training or a Bible study, I can’t exactly remember which), where we all stood around with a piece of chalk and were instructed to draw a circle around everything over which we had complete control. As we pondered this instruction, it ultimately became clear that the only thing we could circle was the pavement immediately beneath our own feet.
Yesterday, I pulled up my Facebook feed and saw the same old things. Trump will ruin the country. Hillary will ruin the country. These lives matter, those lives matter. I even saw one friend bemoaning what his other Facebook friends had chosen to post in their own feeds. Nearly all of these posts and shares are designed to “raise awareness” of some thing or another – or to put it another way – to provoke others into taking some sort of action. To control something outside of ourselves, be it our environment, our circumstances, our friends. And yet, this kind of control is an illusion. We can’t manipulate our environment to the extent that we’ve been led to believe, and that scares us and offends our western sensibilities.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to focus on what we do have full control over? Wouldn’t focusing on our own actions, instead of those of others, ultimately not only effect more change for our respective causes, but also allow for more happiness and less stress as we remove those unnecessary burdens and worries from our lives? Perhaps we’d even enjoy our online friendships more if we didn’t mentally attach specific political ideologies and worldviews to every update they share.
It’s tough, I admit. I’m passionate about certain things, and I like to share those things with my friends and even “recruit” them to my way of thinking on order to better relate to them and to share experiences. But I think that perhaps these efforts actually have the opposite effect. Perhaps it’s time for me to focus on what’s inside the circle. As a Christian, this should be a very familiar concept to me, as we’ve always known that the mysterious nature of God is not controlled by us. It’s not our place to try and manipulate His will though offerings or “being good”or following commandments and rituals. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
But the desire to control is real, and shrinking that sphere down to an area that includes exactly one person requires some real effort, especially when those around you continue to try to expand theirs!