Posted by: mmreflections | November 10, 2008

The Control Factor: November, 2008

Who is in control around here? We are living in a time when there are so many people struggling for power and control in our society. We see it everywhere if we are awake and paying attention. It is not only those who seek higher public office.  Many parents are trying to control and manipulate their children rather than to guide them with love, wisdom and good example. Church leaders are often trying to accomplish their goals with fear and manipulation rather than encouraging their people to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Families have been split apart because of resentment and a resistance to forgiving one another. Sometimes parish communities are divided as one group attempts to control another group rather than seek mutual understanding based on love for their community.

As described in previous reflections, I learned that when my life is filled with worry, fear, guilt, shame and anxiety I am living on the first rung of the spiritual ladder. On this level I am failing to trust God to care for my needs. When I find myself acting in such a way as to gain approval and acceptance from people rather than rejoicing in God’s approval, I am on the second rung of the spiritual ladder. In this reflection my intention is to share what for me is the third rung of the spiritual ladder.    I see this rung as the power or control level of life. The symptoms characterizing this level or rung of the ladder are anger, resentment, bitterness, lack of understanding toward others and  the tendency to dominate or manipulate others. When I become angry with someone for not doing what I want, I am on this power or control level. When I find myself resentful or bitter toward another for some reason, I am on this power or control rung of the ladder. When I  choose not to forgive   another  for something theydid to me, I am on this power or control level.   When I hold back compassion toward another and fail to at least try to understand their situation, I am on this power or control level.  When I find myself dominating or attempting to manipulate others, I am on this power or control level.

In my first priestly assignment I was required to teach in a Catholic High School in addition to my being an assistant in one of our parishes. My first students taught me a truly life changing lesson. In one of the classes the students were giving me a rough time, testing me in whatever way they could. I tried desperately to gain and maintain control over my students to no avail. I really thought this was what I had to do.  I became aware in those first few weeks of one young teen-ager who was a ring leader causing many of the problems with which I was confronted. An occasion arose when the matter seemed to be getting out of control and I disciplined this student by having him stay after school.  

I prayed for guidance so that I would have the wisdom to handle the situation appropriately. After praying I met with him in the classroom when all the other students were dismissed. To my surprise  my  anger was gone and I was filled with peace. He came in very angry because he was missing out on some activity in which his friends were engaged.  We sat quietly for awhile, neither of us speaking!  I had no idea what I was to do with this big and tough young guy who sat before me. I finally found myself saying to him, “What can I do to help you? You have so much to offer your classmates! You are really a good guy and everyone really likes you. And I like you too!” He sat quietly for a little while longer and then he began to cry.  He was in that moment not a tough young teen-ager but a little wounded boy. He slowly and hesitantly spoke to me of his troubled home life. I suddenly realized this young boy did not need any more criticism but needed a great deal of understanding. In the weeks that followed my students seemed to have been transformed.   I had stopped trying to control or manipulate these young people.  As my efforts to understand these students and to hear more of their stories, they taught me how to be a teacher.   Those days in the classroom are among my happiest days!

One of the old professors I had in the Seminary often reminded us while we were preparing for our ordination that when we would become priests and were serving in a parish not everyone would like us. There will be some person in every parish that would not like us, that may even appear to hate us and would make our priestly life unhappy if we allowed them to do so. I discovered this lesson again and again.  In every case the person who would be angry with me was trying to control me or to manipulate me into doing something they wanted to have done in their way. In one assignment I had an elderly woman who was furious with me when I found it necessary to change the Sunday Divine Liturgy schedule from three to two Divine Liturgies on Sunday. The new schedule was not to her liking even though it served the entire parish much better. Every time she saw me she would raise her voice and criticize me in front of the other parishioners. She was angry and resentful. She thought I was lazy and uninterested in her situation.

This continued for a long time until she became ill and was confined to her home. I visited her on a regular basis and each time I came to see her I would receive the same treatment.   Still I persisted in visiting her and I learned that no one ever came to visit her, not even her children. She asked me why I came to visit with her when she was always so mean to me. I told her it was because I cared about her. She liked to sing songs from the old country and hymns from the church services.  One day I asked her if we couldn*t sing some of the old country songs we both knew. Everything changed on that day! She became a dear old lady who became very fond of me. Before she died she was reconciled to her family and to old friends. She had given up the power and control struggle.

Jesus taught us that his purpose in coming into this world was to serve, not to be served.  He made clear that all authority and power is given us so we may be of service to one another not for the purpose of trying to control others. When his own followers are misled into thinking falsely about the importance of power and control, he sets them straight by choosing the road to service rather than domination. Jesus stands opposed to the notion of who is for us and who is against us. He strongly opposes any domination of one over another, adults over children, the wealthy over the poor, the powerful over the strong, even men over women. Jesus makes it clear we will never be happy or at peace if we seek to be in control, if our energy is spent striving to gain power over others, if we move to put others down, if we refuse to accept others as they are, if we spend our time trying to change others.  If our lives are filled with anger, resentment, bitterness, and  hatred we need to wake up!

Even though most of our brothers and sisters are living on the lower three rungs of this spiritual ladder, there is a better way. The upcoming reflections will consider what I have learned to be for me the higher rungs of the ladder on which I with so many others have discovered the happiness God would have us enjoy.

“You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘You shall not commit murder; every murderer shall be liable to judgment.’ What I say to you is: everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; any man who uses abusive language toward his brother shall be answerable, and if he holds him in contempt he risks the fires of Gehenna. If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  (Confer Matthew 5:21-24)





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