Hi. My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a control freak.
Somewhere along the way I decided it was righteous, even noble, to force help on folks who seemed incapable of making good choices for themselves. Micromanagement for the greater good is the highest of callings, isn’t it? As a good Christian, I felt obligated to help those who wouldn’t help themselves, even if it meant overriding their input.
Unsolicited advice? I got ya covered. Need a volunteer? I’m your girl. Someone needs to make sure things are done correctly!
All this crumbled one day — the day I walked into the hospital room of a person I loved. A person in whose life I’d meddled, intervened and manipulated — all for her greater good.
I sat in her room, trying to muck over the next way I could intervene, staring at the geese fashioned out of towels and gingerly placed on the windowsill by housekeeping in a feeble attempt to make a hospital room look more like a cruise ship.
I was utterly defeated. It was all a hopeless dead end in the face of human will and choice. I was licked, and I surrendered.
With the grace to finally pray for God’s will, I finally realized that I just loved the woman in that room, and that was all I’d ever wanted — to love her. The only regret I could ever have was not loving. I regretted all the times I didn’t love, not as a feeling, not as an emotion, but as a verb. I just wanted to love her. I wanted to love more.
As I prayed for a way to love that she could recognize in her brokenness, I saw a woman stripped of all the outward trappings of dignity, all except her human skin. In desperation and exasperation I raged at God, “How do I love this?!”
He said, “Give her the dignity that is hers.”
What dignity? Surely there is none left! The dignity of free will. The dignity of the inherent right to make her own choices, even the bad ones, even the ones that hurt us. Those choices. It was the last thing I wanted to give, but it had never been mine to start with.
For an instant I imagined God and the agony he endures every time we use that supreme gift of free will to turn away from him. I saw free will for the big deal that it is … and I was ashamed. Ashamed of all the ways, big and small, I had violated that gift in the lives of others. Ashamed of the times I’d robbed people of the pride of making good decisions for themselves, robbed them of the benefits of learning from their own mistakes. That was what I had done with my free will: tried to take it away from other people I loved.
What else did I learn?
I learned that what I called “helping others” was always about me — about no one’s choices but my own. My comfort level, my pride in thinking I know what’s right for other people, or even for myself. I wanted to play God, not just out of love but to avoid sitting with the discomfort of watching other people suffer for their bad choices, and I did it under the guise of helpfulness and competence. All of my “help” had never made a positive difference. What’s worse, it probably hindered. Ouch.
It was a bitter, humbling, penitential pill, but I’d sure earned it.
For the most part, these days, I work hard at using my supreme gift of free will to allow others their dignity. I think I finally understand that it’s never loving to undermine this gift, no matter how big or small the situation, no matter how noble the intention. It’s not easy, especially when it seems to be abused and to make their life worse; but, after all, the fall started with one bad choice chosen freely, and the salvation of the world began with a free-willed yes. So I know it must be a big deal.
My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a recovering control freak.
Elizabeth Dyeis a wife, home-schooling mother, daughter, sister and aunt who resides in the Deep South. In a former life she worked in NCAA drug compliance, pharmaceutical compliance, and case management.