If you were to ask me what is the greatest obstacle to growing closer to the Lord, I would say that it is our desire to control our own lives rather than allow God to control them. This is what the first commandment is all about: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before Me.” We are to let God be God, to let God be in charge of our lives.
One of my favorite stories is about a man who went on a weekend retreat. Throughout the entire retreat, he wrestled with the questions: “Who are you, God, and who am I?” He was hearing nothing from God and was quite disappointed as he finished his retreat. As he was driving away from the retreat house, he heard God respond: “I am God and you are not.”
The spiritual journey is one of slowly handing control over to God. This is a journey that the Lord wants all of us to take. One of the simple ways we embark on this journey is by asking God for help, by praying, “Come Holy Spirit.” When we do this, we acknowledge our need and dependence on God. When we ask the Holy Spirit to come and help us, we accept the fact that there are some things in our lives that we cannot control, that we need help with, that we cannot do alone. We also are led to accept the fact that we cannot control how, or where, or when God will help us. God wants us to hand over to him more and more control.
Another way of embarking on this journey is to let God control the agenda of our prayer. One day, as I was meditating on this issue of control in my own life, I realized that I was controlling my prayer time. I never asked God how God wanted me to spend the prayer time. I was controlling the agenda for my time of prayer rather than giving control over to God. Now the Lord probably wanted me to pray about control but I never asked. I held onto control. Silence in prayer is one way of saying to God: During the next few minutes I will let you have control. I will let you lead me wherever you want me to go.
Henri Nouwen captures our struggle with controlling life when he said the following: “While realizing that ten years ago I didn’t have the faintest idea that I would end up where I now am, I still like to keep up the illusion that I am in control of my own life. I like to decide what I most need, what I will do next, what I want to accomplish, and how others will think of me. While being so busy running my own life, I become oblivious to the gentle movements of the Spirit of God within me, pointing me in directions quite different from my own.”
It is through our yielding to these gentle movements of the Spirit that God can slowly take control of our lives. It is through our repeated “Yes” that we hand over our will to God. It is only when we “let go and let God,” it is only when we allow God in by asking him to come in, that we can slowly turn over control and open up to God’s power and grace. This is not done usually through one powerful religious experience, but through our daily choices. We all need to pray, “Help me to say, ‘Yes. Lord. Yes to the constant nudge of your Spirit, yes” day after day, yes choice after choice.’” This means “Yes” to life as it is, to what the Lord allows to happen. This means to embrace each moment of life with an awareness that it will reveal God to us. This means doing what the Lord wants rather than what we want. This means letting God be God.