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My Lack of Control

August 2, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

I’m sweating the small stuff and it’s no way to live.

In the July issue of O magazine, they posed this question to their readers: “What could you stand to be more relaxed about?” (I think that’s slightly awkward phrasing but I’m not their editor). One of the responses, that of Angela Sandberg of Jacksonville, Alabama really resonated with me: “Life’s unanswered questions. I need to let go and trust that all will be revealed to me at the perfect moment.“ Wow.

And yet the more I thought about it, the more I reflected, the more I realized that I am okay with unknowing on the big issues (What’s going to be with Iran? When will the Messiah come?). It’s the small ones that make me nuts! I can let go and trust that the answers to the big questions will be revealed to me in the right moment – either at the time of the Messiah or in the World to Come. I don’t have a problem with that.

It’s the daily unknowns that are driving me over the edge and making me wish there was some easy pharmaceutical answer! I’m not worried about the future of the Jewish people but I obsess about school acceptances for my children. I can trust that the Almighty will ultimately reveal His plan but I’m having a hard time waiting for all my children to find their right mates. I believe whole-heartedly in a future Messianic world but I’m skeptical that my paycheck will arrive on time and devote endless hours to worrying about paying the bills.

I have belief and trust in God when it comes to life’s issues writ large but I’m sweating the small stuff.

I think the full credit answer is not to sweat either. Everything, from small to big, is in the Almighty’s hands. He can orchestrate world peace and be attentive to the needs of the individuals in my household – and every household - at the same time. But I think our natural tendency is to obsess over the small things, life’s daily stresses.

I worry if my cleaning lady (whose appearance is rare enough as is) will show up on Friday. I pray that the airlines won’t lose my luggage (this is not an irrational anxiety!). Are my kids coming home alone too late at night? Are they choosing their friends wisely? Will they get that job they applied for?

It seems to go in phases – periods where I feel calm about the future and confident about the Almighty’s ability to take care of it for me alternating with times where everything feels up in the air and out of control and I feel compelled to step in. I’m not sure that I can attribute them to greater trust and lack of trust more than I can to the periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium that growing children experience (6 months of great behavior, 6 months of “what happened to my sweet child?” according to the Gesell Institute). But I can definitely work on it.

There is a certain indulgence in allowing the negative thoughts and the anxiety to take over. While painful, it’s easier than working on letting go. It’s easier than working on trust in God. It’s easier than giving myself over to prayer and the concentration required. It’s easier than recognizing my own lack of control, my own inability to engineer the “right” results. It’s a substitute for action and effort.

I know all this – just as I know that frequently being miserable and depressed (the non-clinical variety) is easier than making the effort to be happy.

Sadness, anxiety, fear, worry – this may be the default position for many of us. But it shouldn’t be the end spot. And this is the one area where we do have control. I can take charge of my thoughts and emotions. I can focus on the positive. I can change the channel. I can work on trust. I can read the books and recite the mantras and redirect my mind. All it takes is a deep breath – and a lot of hard work.

But the alternative is to constantly sweat that small stuff. And that’s no way to live – not for me or for those around me. My husband taught me many years ago (I guess this isn’t a new problem!) that I should use my anxiety as a tool for connecting to God. Whenever I start to worry about the future I should just say “The Almighty should help.” I think I need to add to that one-liner. “It’s all in His hands and it’s all going to be good.” Breathe in, breathe out…

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