I am not a TV addict. While my husband enjoys watching action-packed adventure movies, almost as soon as the television is turned on for us to relax most evenings, I get down to more serious relaxation – and doze, or even sleep the whole night, if I remember to put and turn on the C-pap before saying goodnight. After prayer, hugs and kisses and a screen-filled story, I usually don’t follow the CSI’s or NCIS’s or Blacklist or whatever past the first ten minutes. If I have a good book, I can spend hours past bedtime reading, but only a short scene or two on the screen – unless it is a historical novel or well-crafted mystery. If Lau gets up to answer the phone, however, I grab the remote control and do some serious surfing, checking out several national and international news stations, a couple of cooking experts (I especially loved Kylie and Nigela and enjoy Jamie Oliver’s thirty-minute meals) and even take a peek at ridiculous situations on What Not to Wear or Wife Swap. As soon as Lau gets back to the bedroom sofa, I return the remote control to him, trying to focus the scene where he left off – while I return to Terra Somnia.

What makes me crave the control when I don’t even like TV? Guess it’s really a matter of wanting to know what’s on on twenty-something stations in living color and deadly world news or crime scenes. It’s having that gadget in hand and doing something different from what is presently presented – like the idea of “anywhere but here” of a wanderlusting reader or watcher. I have to confess that not a few moments of irritation have risen around issues of remote control and who says what we will watch.

Long ago, when I was younger (I am still young at heart, though over sixty-five!) I used to criticize my mother for her need to control every detail in her well-ordered life. Mom’s closet had clothes with notes about the date they were purchased (shortly before she died at 88 I found a skirt she had bought in Porto Alegre when I was fourteen), what accessories she could wear with the outfit, and a rubber band on each hanger indicating whether the garment was sparkling clean or had been worn and would need laundering after two or three uses. She knew where every penny she paid had been spent (or wasted, in her opinion, many times when given to someone else). Mom made to-do lists and grocery lists, collecting coupons and comparing savings. She had reams of paper of all colors, shapes and sizes, but used to cut up used envelopes and write notes in her impeccable ambidextrous calligraphy on everything from “B’s birthday” to “mail check for tithe” to “turn over the compost pile” and “make soup from chicken bones” or “pray without ceasing”. On her birthday list, besides writing the name of the person whose birthday would be celebrated on a certain date, she wrote the relationship beside the person’s name: Beth – daughter –August 17th; Deborah – granddaughter – October 25th, Louella – friend .... and for many years indicated what was given for the occasion. As I said, I used to criticize my dear mom for the controlling details of her life, until I realized that the need to be in control was due to the fear that she was losing control, forgetting, and worse, not being able to foresee the outcome of plans and dreams. To a detail-oriented, well-ordered woman, the shocking surprises of life were earth-shattering, and she had trouble dealing with them, except as “reasons for prayer requests”.

In John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life we read about the reformed understanding of God’s authority, presence and control, and when we learn about God’s control over all things, we learn to trust God and his providence. Our faith is in who he is, what he does and did, and what he promised for our future. It is trust in the sovereign care of our loving Father. We often think of Romans 8:28 as a catch-all for a sort of fatalistic clichéed Christian life, but when we look carefully at the text we understand that God’s will in the life of those who love him is full of purpose and controlled conformity – to him!

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit,
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints
in accordance with God's will.
And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
For those God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those he predestined, he also called;
those he called, he also justified;
those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:27-30)

In the case of God Almighty, control is beneficial (God works for the good of those who love him), relational (that he might be the firstborn of many brothers) and progressively better (those he predestined he also called, those he called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified). Human control freaks (like you and me) often do not want to control for the benefit of the one(s) we control, but for our own personal benefit. Instead of thinking relationally of others as brothers and sisters, we want to dominate or dictate as captains of our own souls as well as of others’ lives, and in lieu of improving the circumstances toward glory, we want to control because we don’t believe the other person is capable of wise decisions and actions! Remote control in hand, we boss around here, there and everywhere – even when our choices are just as stupid as the other options presented!

Jeremiah was a prophet who received the Word of the Lord when he was still very young, and foresaw and experienced the destruction of his people and nation even when every other prophet was preaching peace and good times, and the shepherds of Israel were “curing the hurts of their sheep superficially”. When he got to writing Lamentations, there was no way to control what was happening in current events or heartfelt stories – for Judah has gone into exile and she who was queen among the provinces is now a slave (Lam.1:3,1). But Jerry had to admit he lost all control: “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath”. His skin and flesh “grow old and he has broken my bones”; he is “surrounded with bitterness and hardship”, dwelling  “in darkness like those long dead”; “walled in so I cannot escape”; “weighed down with chains”; “barred my way with blocks of stone”... “he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long” (Lam. 3.1-20).

Truly Jeremiah, who was called by the Lord before being formed in his mother’s womb”, and was appointed to have control “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10) seems to have lost it all – health, prestige, being believed, family, friends, position and even possibilities in his nation.

Some of my friends and family have situations similar to that of Jeremiah. They are faithful to God, but by the standards of prosperity-gospel preachers and of the real world we live in, all seems lost. Even I  have no control over circumstances or situations, and wish there were a magical remote control to put things back onto the right station or more pleasant programs. Like Jeremiah, they (and we) “well remember... and our soul is downcast within” but there is something else, something more:

YET, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:20-26)

And in spite of no control in our hands, like crying prophets, demoted priests and fallen kings and queens, we sing: Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with thee/ Thou turnest not, thy compassions they fail not/ as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be! Great is thy faithfulness!

Elizabeth Gomes

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