July 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 12

When Life Seems Out Of Control

By Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of stormy seasMost of us, thank God, have never been caught in a storm at sea, and hopefully never will. We have never pulled on the oars in vain, as a fierce headwind made progress impossible. We have never looked at the towering waves and feared that our boat would sink. This challenge is foreign to our experience.

But when we move from the external event to the inward emotions, all of us become a part of this story being in a storm. We know the feeling that our best efforts are to no avail, that no matter how hard we try, we are getting nowhere.

Many times parents feel this way in dealing with their teenage children. We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. It is important to remember that the real focus of being in such a situation is the emotions that such an event would evoke.

There is a story in the Gospel in which the disciples were in a boat in a storm. This Gospel reminds us that their fate as well as ours does not lie in human hands. For the most part, we can worship God, where we choose, as we choose and without fear or intervention. But certainly this does not mean that life has become a quiet sea, where voyages can sail in perfect peace.

The headwinds that impede progress are still out there. Storms of adversity are still a part of the human experience. And when they come (storms of adversity) we feel helpless in the fact of an impersonal force over which we have no control.

One thing we can do is recognize the truth of it. The feeling that life is beyond our control is not always an illusion. Sometimes it is very real. Individual lives are affected every day by circumstances that they did not cause and cannot change. Somewhere, I am sure, this week some man or woman lost their job. A good worker, but a slowdown in business dictated that move. No one has control over that.

Somewhere today a baby will be born with an incurable disease and probably will be sentenced to a tragic life and an early death.

Just in the last six months we have witnessed devastation upon devastation. Over 80,000 killed in a Pakistan earthquake. Can we imagine how the living in that country must be surviving? This is a sobering but realistic fact. It could happen to us and we must remember that we are fragile and vulnerable human beings often at the mercy of life's turbulent forces. The sooner we come to terms with our limitations, the better off we will be.

If anyone reading this has not yet resigned as general manager of the universe, this would be a good time to do it. It is foolish for us to try to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, when it is clearly evident that we were not designated to do that.

The Bible not only accepts, but also gladly proclaims the insufficiency of people to deal with all that life brings. For example, in a letter to the Romans, Paul freely acknowledged his inability to achieve something he deeply desired. He was unable to convince many people what he was totally convinced of, and that is, that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

He spared no effort to accomplish this goal. He said: "there is great grief and constant pain in my heart." But Paul did not end on that note of frustration. He went on to say, "Blessed be God who is over all." His grief was eased by an awareness that the destiny of Israel was not entirely up to him.

At least in part, this is what faith in God means - accepting our human limitations and trusting God to manage the rest.

The prophet Elijah had to learn that truth. In his struggle with life, he had come to a place of utter discouragement. Everything seemed to be lost. He had tried, with little success, to turn his nation from the worship of Baal to the worship of Jehovah. His efforts had incurred the wrath of the Queen and his very life was in jeopardy.

Elijah was ready to quit. He had even prayed to die. Then one day, high on a mountain, three of the noisiest forces in nature passed before him - the wind, an earthquake and then a raging fire. But God was not to be found in any of these. Finally, everything grew quiet and there, in the stillness, Elijah heard "a tiny whispering sound." It was the voice of God.

We don't know what God said, but it did teach Elijah a new and more accurate perspective of things. And that is what we all need the most - not a change of circumstance, but a change of perspective that would bring about a change of attitude.

Listen to the words in your heart: "Get hold of yourself. Do not be afraid." That is the one message we most need to hear when life seems out of control.