Women Out of Control
Wife and mom Shannon Popkin talks about our tendency as sinners to want to be in control. Opening the Bible to the story of Abraham and Sarah, Popkin shows how Sarah, in trying to control her circumstances and help things along, actually made her situation worse. Popkin shares how letting go of control has improved her relationships and helped her rest in the Lord.
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Shannon Popkin talks about our tendency as sinners to want to be in control. She shares how letting go of control has improved her relationships and helped her rest in the Lord, on FamilyLife Today.
Women Out of Control
Bob: Do you want to know if you are a controlling person? Shannon Popkin says, “Pay attention to the things you say and the way you say them.”
Shannon: We often use our tongues, as women—right?—to control. That’s our—ooh, that’s our/that’s a good one to—you know, we can just slip in even a little sigh like [sighs]; you know?—that’s a control tactic! So if we want to chart a new course for our lives/if we want to turn in a new direction, I say start with our words. James compares our tongues to a rudder; so if we want to go in a new direction, start with what we say.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 15th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If being a controlling person is an issue for you, maybe, the place you need to focus on is learning how to control your tongue. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m wondering if there has been a moment—and Ann I’m going to ask you this—“Has there been a moment in your 40 years of being married to Dave when you felt the most out of control/when you felt like, “I’m not safe in this moment”? Does anything come to mind?
Ann: You mean safe, in this moment, because what might come out of my mouth? [Laughter]
Bob: Well, I guess that’s possible. [Laughter] I’m thinking of some circumstance or situation that Dave was leading you into, where you were going, “This just feels really risky and threatening.” It might have been him saying, “Let’s go skydiving.” [Laughter] I mean, it could be that kind of thing; or it could also be him saying, “Let’s launch a church,” or “Let’s…”—I don’t know what. Is there something that—
Bob: —comes to mind, where you go, “This is where I started to feel, ‘This is really scary’?”
Ann: Dave is great in terms of he really has not gone out and done something without first talking to me and we’ve really dialogued about it, so he’s amazing at that; but there was one time when—
Dave: Uh-oh! I don’t even know what she’s going to say! [Laugher]
Ann: —he came home; and he said, “Hey, so we’re having this campaign at church where we’re raising money”—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: —“to have this addition onto our church. This is what I feel like we’re going to give.” It wasn’t so much of an ask; “This is what I’ve committed to.” I was thinking, “Are you insane?!” [Laughter] I’m usually the one that’s a little more generous, but this number was out of control. I just said, “No!”—like, “That’s dumb; that is a dumb decision.” [Laughter] So—
Dave: That was a fun conversation; I do remember that.
Ann: —but I did say to Dave, “I’ve got to really pray about this to see”—like—“is this from God?”—which I really did trust Dave, hearing God’s voice. That was probably one of the only times that I thought, “No; we are not doing this.” I don’t think I said it quite like that.
Dave: The bad thing is I had already told the church— [Laughter]
Ann: Right; that’s—
Dave: —not the congregation—but the leadership—
Dave: —“We’re in.” Then I’m driving home, going, “What in the world?! I haven’t even talked to Ann.”
Bob: “I should have talked to Ann about this.”
Dave: So I sort of tried to spin it in such an easy way that she would just go, “Yes, that makes a lot of sense”; and she went: “What?! Are you kidding me?! We’re not going to do that!” [Laughter] I’m like, “You know, she didn’t know about it.”
Ann: We had a kid coming up to college and—
Bob: So you gave the money?
Ann: We did; I just felt like God said, “Yes, you need to step out on this.”
Dave: We did, though, say this—and I said to her, “Let’s take the night”—because I knew I could go back; it was just a couple people that I had said, “I’ll do this”; because I wanted to lead our congregation and be able to say, “I’m not asking you to do something we haven’t done; give sacrificially.” We slept on it; maybe, we took a week. [Laughter] I don’t think it was a day, but it was—
Ann: I can’t remember.
Dave: —a couple days. Then you said, “I’m in.”
Dave: So we did. You know, it’s one of those stories—God did end up blessing us, so it—not just financially—but it was a scary decision.
Ann: It was a few months later we found out a son got a full ride to college.
Shannon: Oh, wow.
Ann: That was like, “Oh, that’s helpful!” [Laughter]
Bob: “We can trust God after all.”
Ann: Yes; right.
Bob: You know, when you’re talking about wanting to be in control, what you are really talking about is: “Do I trust God in the middle of—
Bob: —“vulnerable situations?” That’s what we’re talking about this week.
Shannon Popkin is joining us. I should mention we’re talking about control with her this week. Next week, we’re going to talk about something that you would say, Shannon, is, maybe, parallel to control—in terms of if we’re talking about besetting sins that women regularly struggle with—control is one of them; what’s the other one?
Ann: Oh, Shannon! [Laughter] You’re just hitting all of our buttons right now.
Bob: So we’ll talk about comparison next week, but we’re talking about control this week. You shared with us already that you see this happening at the beginning in the garden with Eve; but as you looked at Scripture, you saw this control issue emerging with women in Scripture over and over again.
Shannon: Yes, when I recognized that, in Genesis 3:16, where God says, “Your desire will be for your husband,”—when I recognized that that curse had to do with me wanting to take control, I thought: “Well, if I’m being affected by this curse, thousands of years later, if I go back to God’s Word, surely, I can find some other women who were living out this curse; and maybe, I can learn from them. Maybe, I could find some mistakes to avoid, or I could learn God’s perspective on this whole control matter.”
That’s exactly what I found in Scripture. Woman after woman after woman was doing exactly what I was doing. They were trying to take matters into their own hands, trying to make it all turn out right according to their little, small-minded perspective; and they were making everybody miserable in the process.
Bob: So, for example—
Bob: —you get to Abraham and Sarah. Of course, the first thing I’m thinking of is God had said to them, “You are going to have a baby”; and they weren’t having a baby. Sarah said, “We’ve got to take this matter into our own hands”; right?
Shannon: Yes, yes. It says that Abraham listened to the voice of Sarah, and then that echoes back to the Word also says Adam listened to the voice of his wife Eve. In both cases, this man was being influenced by the voice of his wife, who was leading him in a direction that God didn’t want to take their family. By speaking/by probably nagging or trying to take control, the wife was not inviting her husband to listen to God.
Bob: And let’s be clear here. We’re not saying a husband shouldn’t listen to the voice—
Bob: —of his wife; right?
Shannon: No, no.
Bob: That’s how a marriage works, when husbands and wives are listening to one another.
Ann: I can understand Sarah’s dilemma. She’s thinking, “It’s been ten years.” Maybe, she starts thinking, “Maybe, God wants me to have a part in this.” I think it’s easy to kind of do—we get in our heads, and we think, “How can I help God?”—instead of surrendering this to God and going to God.
What did Sarah do right, and what did she do wrong?
Shannon: Let’s talk about what Sarah did wrong first, and then we can talk about what she did right. Sarah’s idea was to invite another woman into the marriage, and this was a customary practice; but this was not God’s plan. God had promised that Abraham would have a child with Sarah. Hagar was Sarah’s idea; she said, “I’ll give my handmaiden to you, and you can have a child through this handmaiden.” So Ishmael—this was not the son of promise.
There’s this scene where, finally, Sarah does have a baby—baby Isaac—who is the child of promise; and there is this scene, where Isaac is—they are throwing a party. Isaac is weaned, and they are celebrating his life. There is this time where Ishmael is kind of picking on Isaac; they’re about 13 years apart. Ishmael is a teenager; he’s picking on Isaac, and it’s pretty ugly. Sarah steps in; and she says, “Get them out of my house.” She talks to Abraham; and she says, “I want this handmaiden and I want her son out of our lives. Send them away.” The amazing thing is God reinforces that; He tells Abraham, “Yes, that’s what I want you to do.”
I think that it’s this moment when Sarah, for the first time, recognizes that she has introduced a threat into her family. You know, Abraham and Sarah are old; they are going to die soon, and these two boys are going to be living in the same family. This older one is always going to be picking on the younger one, and this promised son is always going to have this threat. By stepping in/by inserting herself, Sarah has created a threat to God’s plan.
As women, I think we do the same thing. As controlling wives and moms—especially as moms—we try to control our kids. We try to bring them to church, and we try to make them do churchy things, and we try to iron out all the poor behaviors that we see in their lives. By taking control, I think what we do is we produce false imitation sons.
Bob: Here is how you say it in your book, Control Girl—you say, “I think controlling women produce some of the godliest-looking families in the church.”
Bob: I read that and I thought, “Ouch!”
Bob: But you go on to say, “We want our loved ones to inherit the future God has promised to His children, but what if we are producing slaves and not sons?”
Shannon: So true.
Bob: I think we have to pull back and go, “Are we creating behavior-modified rule-followers or people—young men and women—who, from their heart, are choosing to follow God? Are they just under our control and being compliant?” If that’s what you’ve got, then the college years are going to be a real rollercoaster for you because, when they are no longer under your thumb, they go, “Now, I get to do what Mom would never let me do before.”
Shannon: Yes, I remember one time—my son, as a teenager, wanted to go to a different church. That was not okay with me; I was frustrated by that because I had this idea of like: “Our family: we all sat together in church. I want to see my kids all lined up next to me.”
I wondered, “What would I do with the questions of people asking, ‘Well, where is your son?’” all the time. He had made friends at a different church, and he wanted to go to youth group there. That was hard for me; I had to wrestle with God over that. Ultimately, we laid that down, and we let him go to a different youth group.
You know what? He’s walking with the Lord, and I’m really thankful that we gave in. I mean, that’s not even a big deal—we were letting him go to church—you know? [Laughter]
Dave: —at another church, yes.
I know when Ann and I—it’s been 33 years since our first son was born—but I picked up a book then; I can’t tell you the author. It was—the title was The Dangers of Growing Up in a Christian Home. I remember just seeing the title and going, “I’ve got to read this, because I didn’t grow up in a Christian home; but now, I’m leading one.” I thought, “What are the dangers that I’m going to bring, as a Christian husband and dad, to our family?”
It was really interesting. It said the research says the worst thing you can do, if you want kids to walk with Jesus when they are adults, is control. That was the number one parenting style that lead to bad results. Now, they’re not saying total permissive parenting is the answer; but if there is a balance of truth and grace—I’d never heard that one before—it’s the person of Christ/truth and grace. If there is a balance, it leads to a better result. I remember reading that, thinking, “Oh my goodness!”—because our tendency is to control our kids, especially as they get into teenage years.
The biggest learning of that book was, at some point, they’ve got to find their faith, not your faith. That’s the hardest thing for a parent to let happen—it’s like: “I can’t control them anymore. I’ve actually got to let them fall and make hard choices so that they own the faith, not Mom and Dad’s faith.”
I think it gets to what you’re saying; right? I mean, even that decision to let your son go to another church—that’s a hard control—to let go of that; but in the end, it’s the best result; right?
Bob: Well, it’s one of the things we talk about in the Art of Parenting® video series.
Bob: There comes a point in our—as we are raising our kids—in their development, where we transition from being the control agents in their lives to being coaches and consultants in their lives. A coach doesn’t control the player on the field. The coach coaches the player and calls a time out and says: “Here; we’re going to run this play. We’re going to do this”; but ultimately, he can’t control what that player is going to do in the moment. He can bench the player, which you may need to do with your teenagers from time to time; right?—they get grounded, or they get a time out.
But the parent, who is trying to treat a 15-year-old the way you treated him when he was a 5-year-old, is a parent who is headed for trouble. The issue is probably a bigger control issue with you than it is a disobedience issue with your child. Now, again, I don’t know all your circumstances. We’re saying something that I don’t want people to misapply; but I think a lot of parents have 16-year-olds, and they are still trying to treat them like 6-year-olds. You can’t be that controlling parent with a 16-year-old.
Shannon: You know, ultimately, God wants to be the God of our children; and eventually, we’re not going to be in that parent role, and God wants to parent our children.
Bob: You end your book with five lessons that have helped you turn the tide in terms of this control impulse in your life. We’re just going to walk through them quickly.
Bob: The first one is a reverse of the curse; so it’s going from “Your desire will be for your husband”/”Your desire is to be in control,” to a different kind of desire. What’s the new desire?
Shannon: “The desire that God would be in control.” In those big situations, like you are talking about—in the neonatal care unit, where the life of your child is at risk; those are big things that we have to lay down and surrender to God—but also, our heart is trained in the little-by-little moments—you know, like we’ve talked about—“What am I going to say?” “What am I going to watch on television?” “Am I going to limit myself [with] my relationships, where my relationship with my husband is the one relationship that I cling to and not a relationship outside of my marriage?”—things like that—little-by-little choices, where I surrender to God’s plan/to God’s idea of what is good, instead of my own.
Bob: As you are saying that, I’m thinking of Philippians 4:8, which says: “Think on these things; the things that are pure and noble…” If, in marriage, we thought on those things about one another—
Bob: —instead of dwelling on what is wrong, and what is blameful, and what is messed up—if you thought on what is pure and lovely and just make that your focus—
Dave: —which is number three.
Dave: Let’s do two and then three—
Shannon: Yes, that’s correct.
Dave: —but that’s “Cap the red pen”; right? But let’s talk about two, which is “Tame the tongue.”
Shannon: “Tame the tongue”—yes; choosing what I am going to say. Again, like letting God direct my words rather than me be the one. Our tongues—we often use our tongues, as women—right?—to control. That’s our—ooh, that’s our/that’s a good one to—you know, we can just slip in even a little sigh like [sighs]; you know?—that’s a control tactic! So if we want to chart a new course for our lives/if we want to turn in a new direction, I say start with our words. James compares our tongues to a rudder; so if we want to go in a new direction, start with what we say.
Bob: Then the third one, Dave mentioned, is “Cap the red pen.” That’s: “Don’t circle everything that everybody is doing wrong”?
Shannon: Yes, scribbling red ink all over our loved ones. You know, if they have the information, it’s—and we can continue to give the information over, and over, and over—it’s probably turned into a control tactic.
Ann: Then on number four, you say, “Live within limits.” What’s that mean?
Shannon: Yes, God has given us limits. In the garden of Eden, there was only one off-limit thing; it was this one tree. Now, we don’t see correctly; we live in this era of blindness; and things look good to us, which God says are not good. Things look bad to us that God says are good.
We have to defer to God and live within the limits—the limits of marriage. Even in a 24-hour day, we have bodies that need sleep. Going to bed on time—that’s a surrender—that’s training my heart to live in the limits that God has given me. Also, my food/my entertainment choices, how I choose to spend my money: these are all ways that I can train my heart to, rather than give into myself, to be like Jesus and say, “Not my will but Yours be done.”
Bob: The last one is: “To be respectfully his.”
Shannon: Yes, in the marriage, especially. You know, this curse started with Eve and her husband. I think this is one of the primary relationships in life. We love our husbands so much, and we’re so passionate about these men in our lives. For us, laying down control often means laying down control of our husbands.
Ann: One of the ways that I’ve done that over the years is by really trying to apply Romans 12:1, which has always been a favorite verse to me. Paul says to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. So in the morning, when my alarm goes off, it’s just become this habit of hitting the alarm and saying: “God, I give You this day. I surrender myself to You.” I picture myself on an altar: “I give You myself, Lord. I give You my words, my thoughts, my actions; and let me live them as You would,”—because if I don’t do that, I’m going to live them in control and trying to protect myself. That could be a good application for all of us.
Bob: And it may be that listeners, this week, have thought, “Okay, I thought I had an anger issue; but it’s really a control issue,” or “I have seen how my desire for control is leaking out of the cracks of my life, and I need the Lord’s help.”
Maybe, Dave, to your point, the first thing they need to do is just ask about their own relationship with the Lord: “Do I have a relationship with Jesus? Have I ever surrendered my life to Him?” That’s the starting point for all of this. To try to become less of a controlling person in your own power, that can work for a while; but you can’t sustain that over a lifetime without the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
You go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; there is a link there that talks about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. Maybe, as you’ve been listening, you’ve thought, “I don’t know if that’s true for me”; go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link and find out about the two ways to live and “Which is the way God would have you live?”
Then, while you’re there, find out more about Shannon’s book, which is called Control Girl, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Read this on your own or read it with other women. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Shannon, thank you for being with us and for helping us unpack this issue. Great to have you here.
Shannon: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
Bob: Again, the book we’re talking about is called Control Girl by Shannon Popkin. Order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. We’ve also got a link on our website to Shannon’s website, where you can follow her blog and find out more about resources she has available; leaders’ guides for the studies that she’s done are available there. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book, Control Girl, by Shannon Popkin; or call1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, you can find out more about the Art of Parenting video series when you go to our website as well. Find that at FamilyLifeToday.com. It might be a great series for you to go through with other parents over the summer or plan to go through it with your small group next fall. Again, the information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to, somehow, connect together and worship with members of your local church. On Monday, Shannon Popkin is going to be back with us again. Instead of talking about being a control girl, she’s going to talk about the whole issue of comparison and how that can be a trap for any of us that we fall into. I hope you can tune in for that on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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