Controlling the Control Bug

A few years back, in an editorial for the Kokomo Tribune, in a series about “social connectedness,” I mentioned what I call the “anonymous lifestyle.” Now I would like to use that concept as a jumping board for another issue: the “control obsession.”

People often gravitate to an anonymous lifestyle, one in which they can melt into the crowd, one in which the worker bees work, the Queen sits on the eggs, and everything is regimented and orderly. Behind this quest for specialty, organization, and planning is the fear of revealing too much about our humanity, a discomfort with being an imperfect, sinful and sometimes incompetent human. Concealing ourselves means we focus only on our function.

Militaries have exploited this concept for decades. A soldier is no longer a human being from a family with ma and pa; he is a G.I., Government Issue, a son of the republic. Communism capitalized on this idea as well, even removing children from their homes at age 2 for training, returning them to parents for weekends only (as Cuba did during Castro’s heyday). If we can become a cog in the machinery, a gear in the transmission, or a washer holding on a bolt, we somehow sense that humanity—ours included—is either under control or at least hidden from view. We feel secure.

But camouflaging ourselves in the crowd is only one of many “control” techniques.

Some of us fear our vulnerability so much that we will take infinite pains to be in charge. Perfectionism is one of the most common expressions of the control bug. Another method of control is an obsession to be in leadership, to give orders rather than take them, to have our way rather than compromise. Of course, the type of leaders Jesus endorses are servant-leaders, not power mongers.

Legalism, in which every detail is spelled out in advance, is yet another way we may try to maintain control. We seek more rules, standards, and specifics that force ourselves and others to toe the line.

Bullheadedness is not just a trait; it is a control strategy. Others gravitate toward OCD or workaholism, numerous addictions, or a competitive materialism. The list goes on and on.

We know that Lucifer’s original sin (Isaiah 14) was craving to be in control above God. He simply did not want God bossing him around. In his eyes, he had every bit as much a right to be God as God did. Such insanity is the end result of giving in completely to the “control bug.” Indeed, an obsession with control has driven away many men and women to insanity.

Having briefly diagnosed the problem and highlighted a few of the negatives, let me now set forth a few positive assertions about the control bug.

  1. It is natural and right for us to desire a certain level of control. Few of us relish the possibility that one day we may be bound to a wheelchair and cared for by strangers in a nursing home. We are all human beings in the image of God and do not want to be taken advantage of or abused by others. In moderation, a desire to be in control is healthy and good.
  2. Rather than take the role of God, trying to be sovereign and find domains where we can feel omnipotent, we must learn to be comfortable with being under less-than-perfect leaders and laws. Sometimes we are the victims of decisions made by others. We can learn to accept our vulnerability, our fallen state, our fallibility, and our “less than God-ness.”
  3. We can learn to accept our humanity and the humanity of others without sterilizing it through highly specialized function. The doctor is not God, but a man or woman as human as anyone. The soloist does not just have a beautiful voice, but she can get angry at her husband and really let him have it. The teacher procrastinates as much as your brother-in-law. Regimenting humanity through function and specialty does not change human nature. It only masks it.

So if your desire to be in control is more than moderate, maybe you need to learn to get comfortable with the human condition—yours and everyone else’s. Let God be God. You are incompetent at being God.

I need to add one further point. In our spiritual pilgrimage, there are times when God confronts us with our tendency to rule our own lives. He challenges us to present our control bug to him. This is called “surrender.” It is natural for us to want to control our lives, our decisions, and our direction. When we are surrendered to the Lord, we let him make the choices. We turn over the reigns to him; we submit ourselves to his Lordship. The surrendered life is not perfect because our surrender is never complete nor permanent in this life. Parts of our lives or personalities hold out.

In the midst of Italy, there is a little country called San Marino. In the 19th century, Italy was not a country, just a group of provinces that spoke a similar language, much of it ruled by the Austrians. It was Garibaldi who is usually credited with uniting those provinces (or city-states) into the modern nation of Italy. But San Marino, with a population less than 32,000, never got on board.

So, too, we have hidden San Marinos in our lives, holdout areas from the Lord. But if we our lives with a submissive heart, we will be among the godliest people on earth. Let God have the reigns of your life. Your house does not need to be immaculate; you don’t have to be the best in your field. Instead, you can own the best title one can have on earth, “a servant of Jesus Christ.”

Ed Vasicek Bio


Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.

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Bert Perry's picture

I often need to remind myself or others that there are some things we just can't control, and that's OK--and that trying to control them will only make matters worse.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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