Food for the Soul
Part 1 of an interview with Shannon Popkin,
Author of Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden
of Control from Seven Women in the Bible
Many women worry about life spinning out of control and want to be sure of a happy ending. They have a compulsion to make it all turn out just right and are willing to do almost anything to make it happen. When they realize control is slipping from their grasp, they lose control and react in anger or fear. This unbalanced pursuit of control makes those around them anxious and defensive. Author Shannon Popkin knows this struggle well. In her new book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible (Kregel Publications), she reveals to readers the only way to find the deep security they crave is to surrender to God and entrust the outcome to Him.
Q: The title of your new book is Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, but the initial inspiration came from your own life. When did you first realize you had a control issue?
Before I got married, I didn’t realize I was a Control Girl, probably because I could control most everything in my little life. Then I got married, and my husband was messing up all of my plans. He wanted to stay in, and I wanted to go out. He wanted to save our money, and I wanted to spend it. He wanted to get up early, and I wanted to stay up late. These were my first tastes of giving up control, and I didn’t like it. When we added children, houses, dogs and jobs to our lives, my control issues really began to mushroom. There was so much I couldn’tcontrol! God used the chaos of family life to press me to consider my heart’s unhealthy craving for control.
Q: Do you think Control Girls readily recognize their problem with control?
I didn’t. Even as I was behaving like a complete Control Girl, I didn’t see control as my problem. I thought my problem was anger. I was reading books about anger and asking my friends to pray for me. Then one day I was driving in the car, and I heard Dee Brestin on the radio talking about the “sin beneath the sin.” She said we often recognize our surface-level sins, such as anger, but we fail to connect them to the deeper sin. Then she mentioned the sin of control. In an instant, I knew this was my problem.
I’ve found my anger, anxiety and perfectionism often stem from this deep, insatiable, unhealthy craving I have for control. When I see these other things (losing my temper, trying to be seen as perfect, anxiety over safety, etc.) rising to the surface, I’ve found it’s helpful to ask, “OK, Shannon. What are you trying to control? What do you fear losing control of?”
Q: What drove you to explore other “Control Girls” in the Bible?
One day I was painting the laundry room and listening to John Piper preach a sermon on the curse in Genesis 3. He explained that when God said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband,” her desire would actually be a desire for control. I remember standing there on the ladder with my paintbrush in my hand, completely stunned. I, as a daughter of Eve, had been cursed with this desire for control. In one sense it was a relief to learn this because for me, it was like being diagnosed with a degenerative disease passed on from generations back. Suddenly all of my control symptoms made sense!
Then I had another thought. If I was struggling under this curse, thousands of years later, surely the first women in the Bible also struggled with control. Later, I began combing the Scriptures, looking for any evidences of this desire for control in the stories of Bible women. It turns out I didn’t have to look very far. I found these Bible women — Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel and Miriam — all struggled with control the same way I do. They took matters into their own hands and tried to make everything turn out “right” from their own perspectives. They also made everyone (themselves included) miserable in the process.
Q: Which of your seven Control Girls of the Bible surprised you most?
Rachel. She was the favored younger sister of Leah and the beautiful girl whom Jacob worked fourteen years to have. She seemed, to me, to have a charmed life. Yet Rachel’s story was ugly from start to finish. In every scene in Scripture, Rachel is portrayed as entitled, demanding and controlling. Rachel spent her entire life fixated on trying to have more babies than her sister, which was clearly something she couldn’t control. God did finally give her one baby, but she named him Joseph, which means, “May he add.” She wasn’t content with just one baby; she wanted God to add more babies to her side of the family tree. Rachel’s life was cut short when she died giving birth to her second son.
As Rachel stressed and fretted over her family’s little maternity ward, she was oblivious to the fact God had just birthed the nation of Israel. Rachel was part of a story that was all about God and His people, yet she was making it all about herself. The nerve, right? Yet this is my struggle, too. I hijack God’s story, ignore His greater purposes and make the story all about me and my small idea for a happy ending. What surprised me about Rachel’s life was the stern warning it delivered. Rather than vying for control, God invites us to get swept up in the thrilling story we get to be part of but is all about Him.
Q: What practical advice do you have for the woman who wants to stop being a Control Girl?
Think of the Spirit’s guidance as arrows placed in your path to give direction in life. In the book, I talk about “Big Arrow” surrender, which is giving Jesus control in big, life-altering ways, such as when you first gave your life to him. Big Arrow surrender is essential, but I don’t think we can truly become Jesus Girls unless we also practice Small Arrow surrender in the seemingly insignificant moments of life. Let me suggest one Small Arrow to begin with: the tongue.
James chapter 3 compares our words to a rudder or a bridle. Our tongues are powerful and direction-setting. If we want to turn a new way, we can start with our words. As women, talking is one of the primary ways we take control, so it’s also one of the best ways to retrain our hearts to surrender control to God. If I will repeatedly, day after day and moment by moment, bite my tongue, refusing to say the controlling thing I’d liketo say and surrender to God instead, this will be absolutely transformational.
Q: You end each lesson with a meditation. What does the Bible teach us about meditation, and why is it an important aspect of giving up control?
Control Girls seem particularly resistant to change. We might readily say, “God is in control,” or, “I know this is out of my hands,” but our behavior suggests we don’t believe these things at all. I’m convinced transformation is only possible through revamping our thoughts about God and ourselves. That’s why I’ve included a meditation for each lesson. (These are also available for free download on my site.)
Meditation builds a bridge between what we say we believe and how we live. Thoughts are powerful. When we review, in a focused way, truth about God and about ourselves, we wear new grooves in our minds (Colossians 3:10 and Romans 12:2). By hitting refresh on what we know is true, we curb our controlling behavior. We ready ourselves to face the many situations we’d like to control but can’t. We posture ourselves to surrender to God, rather than caving in to our old tendency of trying to control.
Q: What other resources are available to help Control Girls hand the reigns back to God?
At shannonpopkin.com, you can download my Meditation Cards, which are arranged by chapter. I also have an adult coloring book available, titled Reflections on Surrender. My friend Janyre Tromp did all of the original artwork in this lovely book. We hope that as you fill the pages with color, you’ll also fill your heart with each page’s message of truth about control, ourselves and God.
Shannon Popkin is a writer, speaker and Bible teacher who combines her gifts for humor and storytelling with her passion for Jesus. She is a regular contributor for the Revive Our Hearts’ True Woman blog and author of the book Control Girl. Popkin and her husband live the fast-paced life of parenting three teens in Michigan.