Steve Cuss, author of Managing Leadership Anxiety who has a podcast by that same name, says that there are 5 needs we have that lead to great anxiety in our lives:
The Need for Control
The Need for Perfection
The Need for Approval
The Need to have the Right Answers
The Need to Take Care of Everyone
Which one of these tends to be the source of your anxiety? And some of us are like, “All of the above.” Today I really want to address the first one, The Need for Control, in a message I’m calling, “Good Hands”.
Where does our longing for control come from? There is something in our human nature that causes us to make sure we’re going to be okay. We need to know that we are secure, that whatever comes, we are going to be taken care of. And this makes all of us ask the following question:
Who or what can I rely on for my well-being?
For most of us – when our lives began, we had a mother or a father or a grandparent or some caretaker we could rely on. And if they fed us when we were hungry or calmed us when we were upset, this grew our confidence that we would be taken care of and we would have our needs met.
But if there came a time when you couldn’t rely on those individuals to meet your needs, then you had to search out someone else to rely on. Or even if you had great people to take care of you, there comes a time for all of us when we have to start taking more responsibility for our own lives. And this is good in lots of ways. We should become more responsible over the years. There comes a time when we start getting ourselves to our destinations or when we start making our own money rather than living off someone else. I mean, can you imagine your parents still feeding you when you’re in your 30’s? As we grow up:
Becoming more responsible is a good thing, but complete self-reliance is impossible.
There are things within our control, so we assume that everything should be within our control. And the illusion of control holds up for a while. But inevitably, for every single one of us, we come face to face with the reality that we do not have all control.
We tell ourselves that if we get good grades and get a good job, we’ll have enough money to take care of ourselves. But then the day comes when we realize not even all the money in the world can solve all of our problems.
We tell ourselves that if we live in the best neighborhood and have the most sophisticated security system in our homes that we will never have to worry about being safe.
And we even bring this into our spiritual lives. If we just do everything God has told us to do, surely we will avoid all suffering.
When we come face to face with the reality that we don’t have all control, that’s the moment anxiety moves in and threatens to control our entire lives. Is there a way out of this?
Psalm 23:1-6 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
While this is a famous psalm that offers comforting words, it can become more than that. These words can become a daily reality in our lives. So much of our anxiety is about not having enough. To counter that, we will need to embrace this: the LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
We spend so much of our lives being convinced we are missing something we must have to thrive in life. I like how Steve Cuss says it:
“I believe leadership anxiety is generated when we think we need something in any particular moment that we don’t actually need.” Steve Cuss, Managing Leadership Anxiety
What have you convinced yourself you need that you don’t actually need?
We tell ourselves we need so many things to be okay. We need to have our kids get into a specific school to be okay. We must have “x” amount in our retirement by age 40 to know we’re going to be taken care of when we’re 70. We need to get that promotion by a certain month or our careers are over. We need to have “x” amount of people show up at Epic for me to be alright.
The LORD of the universe is your Shepherd; you’re going to be okay…if you will trust and rely on Him. You are freed from the burden of having to be your own shepherd, provider, or god.
Advertisers make billions of dollars convincing us of all that we lack. God is trying to build our trust in Him by convincing us of all that we don’t lack.
What kind of sheep lies down in green pastures and walks beside quiet waters? The kind that has had plenty to eat and drink. In other words, sheep who have been sufficiently provided for. In this trusting relationship, our souls are refreshed…the opposite of the exhaustion anxiety brings to our souls.
He guides me along the right paths. I don’t have to figure it all out on my own or just rely on myself. He has given me His Holy Spirit. And He has given me his word.
“Memorization is an essential element of life without lack.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack
We can stop assuming there has to be a 1:1 correlation between anxiety and our circumstances.
In week 1 of this series, Rich Villodas taught us about the difference between situational anxiety and soul anxiety.
Have you ever found yourself anxious, even when your circumstances were positive? Some people, no matter how good they have it, are still anxious all the time. And the promise of Psalm 23 is that the opposite can be true also. No matter how bad we have it, we can be free of anxiety.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I don’t have to fear. God is with me. God comforts me. I’m not alone. God is present even when we’re surrounded by our enemies.
Psalm 112:6-8 Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
It doesn’t say there won’t be bad news, just that we don’t have to fear it. It doesn’t have to take away our peace. Our hearts can become steadfast and secure by trusting in the LORD.
God anoints our heads with oil; our cup overflows. There’s not merely enough; there’s more than enough. And then David gives us an assumption that we have to start living with: Surely God’s goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives and we can live in His presence forever.
God wants to take responsibility for our lives. We should be responsible, but not for our entire lives – only for what God wants us to take responsibility for. Anxiety can cause us to overfunction or underfunction. We overfunction when we make ourselves responsible for God’s part and we underfunction when we choose not to play our part.
“All of us long to control our own lives. It is one of our primary coping mechanisms to fend off heartache and pain. And control is not a bad thing in itself. We should take control over abusive, coercive, and harmful things. But when we become obsessed with managing our existence to the point that we stop trusting God or depending on him, we enter the dangerous territory of seeking to become God ourselves.” Jon Tyson, The Burden is Light
As you think about your anxiety, how much of it is present because you feel this need to actually be God? Ben, that’s crazy. Is it? Think about this. If you are expecting yourself to be the source of everything you need and everyone else needs from you, wouldn’t that make you God?
“Anxiety shrinks the power of the gospel because it presents a false gospel – one of self-reliance rather than reliance on God. The gospel of self-reliance is always bad news because it always leads to more anxiety. But if I can learn to notice it, eventually name its source and triggers, and move past it, I encounter the actual good news of Jesus, the gospel of grace, which always leads to freedom.” Steve Cuss, Managing Leadership Anxiety
As a church community – one of the best gifts we offer is to continue reminding each other about the sufficiency of God – regardless of what comes our way.
In March of 2021, I took two days away by myself. I was spent, totally exhausted. I wasn’t thinking clearly and I knew I needed some help. I spent this time pouring my heart out to God, reflecting on the past year, and making commitments about what I would do differently in the future. Here is some of what I wrote:
What did I learn from this past year?
One of the best gifts of the past two years was me actually realizing how little control I have and how much God has promised to take care of me. I’ve shared this before, but here’s my one sentence summary of what I learned over the past two years:
Things got way worse than I feared, but I was in better hands than I thought.
On most days in this current season, my confidence is at an all-time high. And it’s not because I gained more control or every circumstance is going my way.
I’ve had to practice letting go of outcomes, not with a “who knows if I’ll be okay in the end”…but with an, “Okay God, I trust you. I release all outcomes to you, knowing you’re working everything for my good in the end.”
“It means that, in God’s hands, we are content for him to take charge of outcomes.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack
Give your life to Jesus if you have never done that.
If you have done that, but your desire for control is causing all kinds of anxiety in you – give your life to Jesus.