I've never been a strong swimmer. As a result, I've always been more of a cling-to-the-side-of-the-pool, swim-with-a-floatie kind of girl. Because when you dive into the deep end or jump off the dock, there's more risk—you never know how long it will take to resurface, how difficult it will be to make it back to the shore. When you dive into the deep end, you're giving up control. And maybe that's my problem—the surrender of control.
Because, as it happens, I like to be in control. I like being able to expect what's coming, to anticipate life's next turn. But, as it also turns out, life isn't really into controlling relationships. You see, life likes being unpredictable, untethered, a little messy, full of surprises. Life doesn't mind knocking you down a time or two if it thinks that will help you in the long run. Life likes getting lost, likes the adventure of just seeing where you'll end up. A free spirit if I've ever seen one.
This has been a year of discovering what a high value I've been placing on control—followed by swift, humbling realizations that I never had control to begin with. What I was grasping so tightly was just the illusion of the thing, not the thing itself. And while this breaking down of illusions has brought with it many moments of "What is happening with my life? Get your shit together! How will you survive without your neatly contrived plans for the future?? I can't breathe." it has also brought with it (after letting the crazy thoughts and fears have their moment) a great deal of peace.
You see, control has to do with striving, and striving leads to exhaustion, worry and anxiety. But when you finally acknowledging that you can't actually control the future, that you can't subject life to your expectations—you can't fix relationships by willing them to be so, you can't force someone to hire you, you can't manipulate situations into your ideals—you can finally relax, pressure off, and start to simply do what is in front of you. You can work with diligence and tenacity on things you love, and let that hard work and passion carry you to where you want to go. You can look people in the eyes when they talk to you, and really listen, authentically investing in the lives of those around you. And you can start responding to the world around you with a little more grace, gentleness and understanding.
I'm starting to think that's all that we truly have control over—our responses. When life knocks us around, we can react out of frustration and disappointment, or we can take a moment to pause, reflect, and respond from a place of peace, of graciousness toward what life has laid before us, allowing it to make us better than we were before. Because, yes, sometimes life will turn out as we hoped or expected, and we can rejoice in the sweetness of that. But many times, it just won't. When it comes to your relationship with uncontrollable life, you have to have the trust of a five-year-old in the deep end—trusting your floatie to keep your head above water, as your swimming instructor promised it would. Yet, sometimes, despite those promises, you tip over anyway, and you flounder under water for a minute before resurfacing. And you can either get angry at the floatie and bitter at your instructor, because things didn't turn out as you had been told they would, or you can pause after the sputtering, catch your breath and resolve to learn how to tread water, so next time you tip over you aren't quite so surprised or scared, and are able to keep your head above water even when the edge of the pool isn't close enough to grasp.