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What Is It About Control?

What Is It About Control?

“You’re so controlling.”

There is not a woman alive who wants to hear those words. More than unwelcome, these words are downright painful. Especially when they hold some truth.

And they almost always do hold some truth—because women know how to control, in wonderful ways and in, uhm, not so wonderful ways. Between us, if I could choose how I served God, it would be in an advisory capacity. If my control gene could be focused simply on my own tasks or even just on myself, it would never be unwelcome. But this particular gene has a hard time limiting focus. Left unchecked in my life or when triggered by fear, or insecurities, or even grief, my control gland shifts into overdrive.

A comforting fact is that so many women in the scripture stumbled hard over this same issue of control. Why? Because they were women!

In the book of Ruth, we find Naomi, broken, grief stricken and angry. She lost her husband and both of her sons while living in a foreign land. She is blaming God, lashing out at those who love her and trying any way she can to get home. Who could blame her? Naomi even wants to change her name to “bitter” because she claims it is all she knows and God has forsaken her. (Cue the sorrowful music).

If women simply used our gift of control in the context of loving relationships and for managing our own lives, we’d never be called controlling. But when fear sets in, grief overtakes us, or we become angry with God, our helpful river of control overflows the banks. And then, like Naomi, we find ourselves working to control things we were never meant to control: people, circumstances, even God—just to get what we want.

When Naomi and her husband (I’m going to call him Fred—trust me, it’s much easier than Elimelech) decided to move to Moab, I’m pretty sure Naomi was in control of those circumstances. How could they have gotten moved otherwise! She did the packing and organizing and made the food for the journey. She kept the boys in line on the trip and made sure they had clean underwear. But after they’d been there a few years something happens to Fred. Then, before Naomi can fully recover, something happens to her boys, who are now men and married.

Naomi feels totally out of control. In fact, it’s normal and right in these circumstances to feel out of control! When the doctor phones with the lab result, the accident happens, or the company files bankruptcy–this will always spin us out of control. How could it not? The test is what comes after “out of control”. We either find our way back to solid footing, or we become controlling. We seek to control the things that created the fear or the loss so we will never, ever, have to experience those feelings again. But controlling doesn’t work, and it makes a bigger mess than was there before.

When Naomi decides she’s going back to her home country her two daughters-in-law want to go with her. She flatly rejects them and even questions their motives for wanting to go. Why would you want to go? Are you hoping I’ll have more sons you can marry? Pretty awful thing to say to the only two people you have left! This is Naomi trying to control her pain. This is Naomi cutting them off before they can leave her as well. This is Naomi being ugly to them because she believes God has been ugly to her.

When Naomi could not control her circumstances or her God, she tried to control her loved ones, probably just to feel better in some way. This is not being in control—this is controlling. And this is out of bounds.


Nothing brings out my control issues like fear. I think of riding a roller coaster and how tightly I grip the safety bar, holding on for dear life. When we do the same thing in our relationships, the result is catastrophic because there is no safety bar to grip in a relationship—so we tighten our hold on other things, or worse, another person.

A few helpful questions for reflection:

Am I in control of myself? Is there anything I am trying to control that isn’t mine to control? Is the way I am controlling things working or is it ineffective? Does my control help and serve those I love or has it crossed a line and is hurting someone?

These may not be easy questions to answer, but they are important questions to ask. Especially if anyone you care about has told you you’re controlling. Hopefully the honest answers will lead to a place of peace and self-control, free of manipulation and full of trust in God.

– Nicole Johnson

The Known by Name series approaches Bible study in a whole new way. By looking at complex women in the Bible through three very different lenses—a dramatist (Nicole Johnson), a counselor (Kasey Van Norman), and a Bible teacher (Jada Edwards)—these studies really get to the bottom of some life’s toughest questions and the very real struggles that accompany them.