Part 2 of an interview with Shannon Popkin,
Author of Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden
of Control from Seven Women in the Bible
“I control because I care.”
“I just want to be sure of a happy ending.”
“I worry that everything is spinning out of control.”
Many women can identify with statements like these. They have a compulsion to make everything turn out just right and are willing to do anything to make it happen, but this unbalanced pursuit of control makes those around them anxious and defensive. When they realize control is slipping from their grasp, they lose control of themselves and react in anger or fear.
Shannon Popkin knows this struggle inside and out. Keeping her inner Control Girl hidden is a full-time job. Thankfully, she also knows another very important truth: no woman has to be a Control Girl.
Q: Tell about the epiphany moment you had several years ago, related to this problem with control.
In Bible study, I asked the women in my group to share a prayer request related to a relational struggle they were having. As we went around the circle, I was surprised by the consistency as each woman asked us to pray about a very strained, hurtful relationship with either a very controlling mom or mother-in-law.
As they each described the burdensome, controlling, older women in their lives, I wondered, “Lord, is this what I’m going to become like?” I was already seeing the seeds of my control problem, sprouting up and creating tension in my family relationships. After the women finished sharing, I leaned in and asked, “How do we not become them? How do we ensure that in 20 or 30 years it’s not our daughters and daughters-in-law asking for prayer about us?” As I searched their faces, I could tell we didn’t have answers. No woman sets out to be controlling. No woman wants to be a burden. This problem seems to metastasize slowly throughout time without us realizing.
Q: Even though the motivation may come from a place of good intentions, how does trying to manipulate every detail often lead to more misery rather than contentment?
I think it’s helpful to recognize we often have good intensions when we try to take control. We’re not trying to exasperate or frustrate anyone. We’re actually trying to make everything turn out right! We have an urgency to do so, feeling as though it’s “all up to us.” However, by taking control and trying to create my own personal version of a happy ending, I’m really trying to take over for God.
No one who tries to replace God does a good job of it. First of all, we don’t actually have control. Second, when we try to take the control we weren’t designed to have, we become frantic, obsessive and more controlling — which isn’t fun for anyone.
Q: What about parenting? Doesn’t good parenting require us to be in control of our kids?
Yes and no — depending on our child’s age. In the book, I talk about the hold and fold principle, which I borrowed from Tim Sanford’s book Losing Control and Liking It. We should:
1. Hold responsibility for what we can control (ourselves).
2. Fold our hands, and surrender to God what we can’t control (everything else).
So here’s my guideline for parenting, using the hold and fold principle. If my child is small enough to hold, then I should hold responsibility. This will mean lots of restrictions, safety reminders and intervention. However, if my child is too big to hold, I should fold and surrender my child to God. So with a newborn, I’m completely holding; with an adult child I’m completely folding. In between, I’m constantly transferring from holding to folding and asking God for lots of wisdom in the process!
Q: Tell us the story of your son and a broken video game remote. How does that example relate to our own illusions of control?
Years ago, I bought a video game controller at a garage sale. When I got it home, I realized it didn’t work. I kept it because at that time, Cade, my youngest son, was about two years old and constantly trying to wrestle the controllers out of the big kids’ hands while they played video games. They would put this broken controller in his hands, and he was completely content, jamming his thumbs on the buttons and watching the guys on the screen jump around. He had no idea that not only was it broken, but it wasn’t plugged in!
This is such a good picture of me. As I watch life playing out all around me, I feel as though I’m in control, like I’m the one keeping everything from running off the rails. Then there are these moments when it becomes painfully obvious I’m not in control. It’s as if God leans low from heaven and dangles the cord of my teeny weeny controller in front of me, saying, “You know what, honey? You’re not plugged in!” God isn’t taunting me; He’s inviting me to lay down the burden of trying to control everything. This whole big world, with all of its shifting variables, does not rest in my hands. God is in control, not me. He invites me to live like I believe this is true.
Q: How can a woman avoid becoming a Control Girl?
No woman has to be a Control Girl. Jesus came to set us free from every bent our hearts have toward sin, including our struggle with control. There is so much hope. We might always struggle this side of heaven with an appetite for control, but Jesus invites us to a different path: the path of surrender.
Think of Jesus in that most stressful, trying hour of his life, just before he was arrested. Unlike us, Jesus could have taken control and avoided the cross, but instead we see him saying to God, “Not my will but yours be done.” What deep surrender there is in those words! This sort of surrender is what turns us from Control Girls to Jesus Girls. When we abandon ourselves to God and trust Him with the future, we find the peace, hope and security struggling for control can never provide.
Q: How can we relinquish control in times when God seems distant and quiet?
Sometimes God does seem far away. We wonder if He sees us or if He cares. Leah felt that way. So did Hagar. Both of them faced desperate, horrific situations. It must have seemed as though God hadn’t even taken notice of them. But there’s a little phrase that punches a hole into the darkness of Leah’s story. Genesis 29:31 says God saw Leah was unloved. He saw her. When Hagar was in the wilderness, crying in desperation, powerless to save her son, Genesis 21:17 says God heard Ishmael. He was dying of dehydration, so I can’t imagine his cries were loud, yet God was close enough to hear him.
If I’m convinced God doesn’t see or hear and if I’m suspicious of God’s motives or wonder if He cares, I won’t surrender to Him. I’ll trust myself instead and resort to my Control Girl tactics. What if I just open God’s Word and remind myself of what’s true: God is not only enthroned above the universe, but He also cares about me and is working all things together for my good? Well, then. I’ve readied my heart to say, “God, I might not see you or hear you in this moment, but I know you see, you hear me and you are intricately involved in the details of my life. I surrender even the hardships and struggle to your good, God hands.”
Q: How do you recommend dealing with a controlling family member while still maintaining a healthy respect and harmony in the relationship?
The more controlling I am, the more I am bothered by other controlling women. They provoke me because they lunge after control the same way I do. Yet when I try to control another controlling woman, I simply become more like her. I once spoke with a woman who was intensely irritated with her ultra-controlling mom. I could almost see her blood pressure rising as she rehearsed all of her mom’s offenses. She told me she was learning to stand up and take back control, and as she talked, I couldn’t help but notice her stiff demeanor, entitled attitude and angry tone. She was displaying the very characteristics she was complaining about in her mother.
When I’m faced with another controlling woman, rather than trying to control her, I think God most wants me to deal with my own heart. If I struggle on and on with my own controlling heart, what makes me think I can conquer another woman’s controlling heart? What she needs, and what I need, is God. God alone can soften our hearts and show us our sin like no other Control Girl on earth will ever be able to. God alone can woo us with His grace, compassion and peace and turn us from Control Girls to Jesus Girls.
Q: Control Girl has a very intentional structure. How is this book designed to be used?
Each chapter is divided into lessons. I want the woman on a time-budget to be able to read a Bible passage, read a complete train of thought related to the topic of control and then make the content personal, all in one sitting. The chapters will be best digested one lesson at a time, rather than all at once.
The book can be used by individuals or groups. There is a free downloadable leader’s discussion guide on my website, www.shannonpopkin.com, along with other resources and freebies.
Shannon Popkin is a writer, speaker and Bible teacher who combines her gifts for humor and storytelling with her passion for Jesus. She is a regular contributor for the Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman blog and author of the book Control Girl. Popkin and her husband live the fast-paced life of parenting three teens in Michigan.
Connect with Shannon Popkin and learn more about Control Girl by visiting www.shannonpopkin.com, following her on Facebook (shanpopkin) or following her via Twitter (@ShannonPopkin).