One of the things I struggle with is the belief that I can fix everything and everyone. It’s my duty, so this belief suggests, to manage the lives of others. It’s my job, this belief suggests, to step in and fix problems when they come to my attention and impart spiritual wisdom at every turn. If I were to take a vacation, or even a day off, this belief has me convinced that the world would implode and everything I’ve worked for would dissolve.
The struggle is a real one. In recovery we call what I have “codependency.” I’ll say more about that in a moment, but for now I want to highlight a story about Jesus which brings relief to my struggle and, I hope, other codependents like me.
In Acts 1, Jesus is about to ascend back to his Father in heaven. His earthly tour of duty is over. He has accomplished that for which he was sent. His disciples have been told what they needed to be told and have witnessed what they needed to witness.
And then this question happens:
“Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (1:6, NLT).
Notice the subject to which this question points. Our kingdom. Us. Me. Mine. It’s a totally selfish question and given all they have been taught and all they have seen you would think this sort of question would be dead to them, right?
Before we look at Jesus’ response to such a question I want to share how the codependent in me would respond. Here is how Acts 1:7 would read if I were Jesus…
You have got to be kidding me! I’ve been with you three years and now, just before I leave this planet, you drop this on me? Oh my Self. I can’t leave now! Father, sorry, I can’t come home now. I need to fix these guys!
But what the real Jesus, who isn’t me, says is this:
It’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…
Translation: I’m not getting sucked into the insanity of your question but have complete and total trust in the Holy Spirit to do a work in you that you presently lack and are unable at this moment to comprehend.
Which one of the above responses is closer to where you live day to day? Do you feel this need or compulsion to fix everyone and everything around you, convinced that if you don’t interject your energy, thoughts, opinions, and life into the world around you that things will implode? Or do you have peace and serenity, trusting fully in the power of God to do that which only God can do: change people, places and things.
Jesus was the least codependent human to ever live. He proved this by ascending back to heaven. A codependent like myself would never leave, and thus never make enough room for the Holy Spirit to fill the broken spaces that need mending.
Step One for codependents is this:
We admitted we were powerless over others- that our lives had become unmanageable.
Powerless over others. It’s a powerful admission. When I am most at peace with myself and others it’s when I remember and work this step. When I am most reliant on God and growing in faith it is when I remember and work this step.
Accepting our powerlessness is a powerful way to live. Melody Beattie, in her wonderful book Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps, says this about this step:
I love this Step. But I hate that I can’t control. I hate being vulnerable and helpless. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable or being in emotional pain. I get sick of having to detach and surrender. But the love affair with this Step comes in when I admit the truth. I am powerless over much in life, and when I try to have power where I have none, I get crazy. I can’t control others, no matter how much I want to, no matter how much better I think I know what’s right for them.
I can’t control what others do, think, or feel, whether or how they choose to interact with me, whether or when they choose to grow and change, and whether or when they choose to recover from their addictions.
The truth is, when I try to manage everything and everyone around me I set myself up as God and become my own worst enemy. The change I want to see happen – which may even be for the good! – will not happen because the agent of change is myself rather that the one true God, the Holy Spirit. Jesus shows us the way out of our insanity by showing us his total reliance on the Spirit to do the hard work of heart change.
If Jesus trusted that, can’t you and I?
Have you been trying to exert power and influence where you have none? Have you been trying to control someone or something, trying harder and harder with decreasing results? How much time do you spend online trying to convince somebody they are wrong? How much time do you spend fixing the messes of others? How much time do you spend obsessing over the poor choices of your spouse, children, friends or church members? How much energy do you put into thinking about what others are thinking and doing?
Perhaps it’s time to return to Step One. Admit you are powerless over others and surrender them and your desires for them over to God. This will no doubt be a recurring step in your life and mine, one we can always return to when things go sideways. For today though, let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does best: change hearts and lives.