Four years ago today my son was born unable to breathe. We had no indication during my wife’s pregnancy that he was anything but perfectly healthy. Since he is our third child, we really felt we had the whole labor and delivery thing down. I know it sounds ridiculous, but somehow a couple of “normal” experiences had convinced us that this would be no different.

Within seconds after his birth, I knew something was not right. I kept waiting for him to start crying, but I only heard a very small whine, almost like the mewing of a cat. He began to turn blue, and the nurses frantically tried to clear his sinus passages so he could breathe. At the risk of sharing too much, I saw copious amounts of fluid pour from his nose. No matter how much they cleared out, though, it seemed there was always more.

About five minutes later (it felt like an hour), a doctor rushed into the room and placed tubes in his nose. They whisked him away and escorted me down the hall to explain that he was headed to the NICU. For some reason, even though he was a full-term baby who weighed well over nine pounds, his lungs were not fully developed. His body lacked the ability to create a very critical soap (called surfactant) that helps control surface tension in the lungs and keeps them from collapsing on themselves.

For the next week, he was on a respirator, until we were finally able to take him home.

Every so often, we have an experience that reminds us how little we are in control of our own lives. There was literally¬†nothing tangible I could do for my son at that moment. I had no skill to save him. I had no authority at the hospital. I was completely and utterly out of control. Our story ended happily — he’s perfectly healthy today — but I frequently remember those first few days in the hospital and the feeling of total helplessness.

While we were in that delivery room, Somebody was there who had the power to save my son. It wasn’t the doctor or one of the nurses or me. We’re grateful for advanced medical care, but God saved my son’s life. God preserves his life even now. God preserves mine, and yours, and that of everybody you know. We live because he keeps us breathing. That’s just as true now, when my son is four, as it was when he was a newborn baby. He’s still utterly dependent on God, every moment, just to stay alive.

I bring all of this up because we often like to think we’re in control of our lives. We buy into the humanistic myth that hard work, a can-do attitude, and positive moral virtue can provide us with control over our lives. We can master our own destiny, captain our own ship, and all that hogwash.

But control is an absolute illusion.

We can influence others. We can influence our circumstances. We can manage our attitudes and our own actions. In the final analysis, though, we can’t control anything of true importance. If something is small enough for me to control, it’s almost certainly too small to worry about. The really big stuff — how long my family and I live, our health, the choices of those around me, my employment status, the global economy, the weather, whether my friends and family trust Jesus — I have no control over any of it. From a statistical point of view, I suspect we have control over less than 1% of our circumstances.

That’s why Jesus said that worrying can’t add a single hour to our lives. We are utterly out of control of nearly every significant life circumstance. If you have the illusion that you’re in control, it’s only because nothing really terrible has happened to you yet.

I don’t say any of this to be fatalistic. Quite the opposite, actually. Eventually we all have to decide whether we believe God is in control of our lives.¬†Everybody makes that decision sometime. If He is in control, then worrying is not simply futile, it’s also completely unnecessary. If He is not in control, then we’re doomed anyway. Worrying is still futile and unnecessary, but for completely different reasons.

So at the beginning of a new year, when you’ve made all your plans and resolutions and goals, ask yourself whether those things are helpful tools or whether they’re little gods. Make your plans, but don’t be too surprised if they’re busted into pieces. Not because God hates you, but because He loves you more than He loves your day planner. He insists on being in charge. He seems to think that His plan is better. And here’s the big not-so-secret: His plan is better. It’s not easier. It’s not simple and trouble-free. It’s good, though. It’s eternally and perfectly good, even when we disagree with it.

Sometime this year, you’ll come face to face with the realization that you’re not in control. Something unexpected will mess with your plans. It might be small or it might be enormous. It might be simply inconvenient, or it might be horrific. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you believe that God, who spoke this universe into being, who made you, who holds the world together, who raised His Son from the dead, is really in control. Is He good? And will you trust Him, even when you have no control?

Those moments, if we learn to trust Him, are the moments that transform us into the character of Jesus. As long as we insist on being in control, our hearts grow smaller and blinder and weaker. When we trust Him, though, He changes us, from glory to glory, into the image of His Son.

Control is an illusion, but God is real. Let’s pray for strength to trust His plan, even when our own plans fall apart.

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