When I was a little kid, I used to pray fervently, fervently that our house wouldn’t burn down. I had this quilt on my bed that my great-grandmother had made and a couple of dolls that my dad had played with when he was a kid, the history of which incited an urgent sense of responsibility should a fire strike. I actually had a plan that if our house should be burning, I’d open my first-floor bedroom window, kick out the screen, grab the pillow atop which rested those most prized stuffed animals, throw them out the window, pull the invaluable quilt off my bed, and jump out the window with it. The greatest fear, though, was that the impending inferno would strike while I was out of the house. So I traveled with an entourage of stuffed animals and blankets.
When I got older, the possessiveness translated to family members. They couldn’t die. Couldn’t. Should God decide to take anyone of my loved ones, God would be answerable to me. I never once missed a prayer on their behalf, pleading that God would be nice and not kill anyone I loved, because I couldn’t live without any of them. It simply would not be possible. I forewent praying for anything I wanted materially because I couldn’t lose some of my credit reserved for my family members’ safety. It was my sole responsibility.
Come college, things began to take a different spin. I realized that my prayers to God were not good prayers simply because they were for others—I needed to actually have a relationship with God, one based on trust and one that understood that whatever happened to my family or friends, God loved them more than I did and God would take care of them. I had to let go of my sense of responsibility and let God take over. And I had to trust the fact that God is always good. It was the most relieving experience of my life when I finally gave God that power over the fates of the people I protected. I still remember the moment of liberation that came when I gave up my control. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted.
Then came the heartbreak. I didn’t lose anyone to death—thank God—but I lost someone to the general course of life. So much of my heart and intellect had been invested in this person, and as I watched him slip away from me, I lost all sense of up. No one else in life mattered anymore. Neither did food, school, art. I was simply a leaky balloon barely able to stay at equilibrium most days. God was a burden, but one I couldn’t completely disown. Instead, I resented God, resented the fact that God had taken this person away from me. How could it happen? How could this God, whom I had trusted so fully, renege on our deal?
I spiraled down into the muck of self-pity. God had betrayed me. Nevermind that my family and friends were all still alive and healthy, the fact that I had lost such a significant relationship was absolute betrayal. Benedict Arnold? Brutus? Judas? Piddens.
It’s taken me years to recognize the providence in that loss and the beautiful growth God has fostered through my suffering. On the far side of pain, I can give thanks for what I’ve experienced, hellish though it may have been. And my suffering was hardly a betrayal. It was simply God utilizing God’s right to turn my possessiveness on its head.
I have been considering these experiences a lot lately as I have begun to become possessive to a fault again. Somehow I never learned my lesson. And it means that I’m constantly living in fear. I’ve left too much happiness to the authority of God. What if there is this divine “gotcha” and I’m left empty-handed? What if all that I have begun to appreciate is simply castles of sand?
The best coaching I can give myself is that no matter how often I think otherwise, God really is in control. And God loves me beyond belief. If those two assumptions prove true—as they always have before—what use is there in my bartering or plying or begging for favors? What merits are there in making God an object I can control if I pray fervently enough? All I’m left with is egg on my face when the divine plan changes the course of my predicted life. And while egg-on-the-face is no fun, it’s far worse to have everything go according to our narrow-minded plans. We’re made for more than that.
Job lost everything only to be given ten times more in return. When we give up our control and feelings of entitlement, we find that everything becomes a present to be enjoyed for however long it’s in our possession. If we can train our minds to be accustomed to the unpredictability of blessing, and can rejoice even when things are no longer what we dreamed, then all matter of good fortunes will come our way. Because when our minds are formed to thank God for even the air that we breathe, then each and every breath becomes a gift. And that’s something no amount of possessiveness can ever quench.