Controlled by the Illusion of Control

Amidst the noise of a hipster gastropark and a hipster HDB cafe, straining my club-deafened ears, I was grateful for life-chats with dear friends.

At Timbre+ (it calls itself a gastropark), before a tenuously-pitched band came on,
Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporeover a trendy beef rendang bowl with onsen egg, salted egg fried chicken, and a bottle each of Brewdog‘s Dead Pony Club and Archipelago Brewery‘s Singapore Blonde Ale,

beef rendang, onsen egg, Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Archipelago's Singapore Blonde Ale. Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporea brother spoke honestly about his difficult childhood, his resulting need to please male figures of authority and the inevitable fall when these men (some even church leaders) manipulated him to their own selfish power-hungry ends. Succumbing to disappointment, he now tried to find satisfaction in work, pounding away at his laptop at all hours of the day and all days of the week, glorying in the exceptional quality of his reports and presentations. It gave him some semblance of control over his own life.

Yet, he knew it was folly. He just wanted it all to become better, just to snap out of it. But he wished people would stop asking him to read the Bible. When a colleague invited him to a retreat that promised an easy encounter with the Spirit that would free him from this habit, he was keen to go.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, SingaporeAt Sin Lee Foods (facebook), at the foot of a block of HDB flats along Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, a sister shared how her regular episodes of binge-eating* too gave her some satisfaction of control over her life. She’d grown up in a loving family and did not understand how she started to compulsively overeat. It shamed her to be found doing so, but she knew herself that the reluctance to change was too great. There was a comfort in being in control.

How lovely it would have been to be able to magick away their addictions. But that’s not how it works in this life.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

There are some quick (and not very thought-through) thoughts:

1. Illusion of control

Work, the praise of humans, binge-eating, any addiction – anyone can tell, even with a casual glance, that none of these things even remotely suggests that a person is in control. In fact, the converse is true – they are being controlled by their compulsions.

2. Motive for change

Since both friends are Christian, I’ve wondered about the efficacy of them seeing non-Christian psychologists, mainly because there is a fundamental disjunct in worldview. As Christians, we live our lives under God. Therefore:

  • we would not want to change to prove anything to ourselves (no “Oh look, I am finally really in control of myself.”);
  • we would not want to change to prove anything to other people;
  • we should not even want to change to prove anything to God! It is precisely because we are such wretched people that God sent his Son to die for our sins.
  • rather we should want to change because we have already been freed from slavery to sin and brought into a relationship with God. Why continue to wallow in the mud and eat rotten peels when a hot bath has been prepared and a feast after?

3. Method of change

We do not need a fresh experience of the Spirit to change. When we trusted in Christ, God gave us the Spirit – He broke our inability to do anything good, He dwells in us, and conforms our lives to Christ’s. Therefore, what we really need is a constant reminder of God’s truth:

  • God is the only God, so we are not god – we can’t be in control of everything (or, ultimately, anything);
  • God is a perfectly good God, so we will not be able to find satisfaction in anyone/anything else. fact.;
  • God is an unimaginably powerful God, so He is the only one who can change us deep down inside where self-help and positive-thinking fluff can never reach;
  • yet, in a beautiful both-and way, a sovereign God works through human will, human skill (reading God’s word), and human reliance on Him (expressed in prayer) to effect this change.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

*she tried to describe what binge-eating was. And later, I found Emma Scrivener’s posts here and here to be very helpful.