Losing Control & Learning to Breathe (sermon 10.18.15)

by susan on October 19, 2015

you-are-not-in-controlDuring my 9 years working as an occupational therapist, I encountered a variety of people and personalities.

There was my favorite 100-year-old German woman. Here name was Heleen Sink and she was extremely hard of hearing. She would scoot around the nursing home in her wheelchair, humming the tune of her favorite hymn loudly and clapping her hands together to the tune. When we were first introduced, she leaned in close to hear me. Instead of “Susan”, she heard my name as “Hoosan.” She called me that for the next two years.

There was also the outspoken elderly Black woman whohad  recently suffered a stroke. When I was about 6 months pregnant, she swore on several occasions in front of a room full of patients that I must be having twins! Just what I wanted to hear…

And, then there were my co-workers.

For a season, I drove to St. Augustine…that’s where I met Cindy, the occupational therapy assistant who was pretty much flying solo until I arrived on the scene. I would arrive by 7:30 or 8 each morning and almost every day she would sign in that she was there at 4 a.m., which of course meant she could go home by noon. It was crazy and no one said a thing to her about it.

I became consumed with her behavior.
She was cheating the company.
She could not possibly be seeing patients at 4 or 5 in the morning and if she was, that was even more outrageous.
The more I thought about it, the madder I got.
At some point, I may have subconsciously started fantasizing about her being fired, and not just fired…fired in a very public & humiliating way.

In case you can’t tell, this seriously bothered me. And, what bothered me even more was that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change it.

Welcome to reality right? I mean, seriously. Are we not constantly confronted by people and circumstances that we can’t control? But, that doesn’t keep us from driving ourselves crazy trying. Whether through obsessive thinking or our own scheming, we do our best to manage everything and everyone.

The truth is though, we can’t control everything.
We can’t control why and when people come and go from our lives.
We can’t control what people say or feel about us.
We can’t even control whether our hometown football team will win or lose today (although we can make a pretty good educated guess about that one…).

We can control some things, but we can’t control everything. This was a lesson Job was learning the hard way.

Today, we encounter another episode in Job’s saga of unplanned suffering. With no warning, Job went from being a wealthy landowner with a family any man would be proud of to having nothing. So far, he had been able to pave the road to success – achieving, working, finding a way to make his plans to yield results. So far, he had been able to hold onto the illusion of control.

Then, Job lost everything and there was no logical reason why.

Last week, we listened to Job express his doubt & anger & frustration. After more time goes by, Job finally hears a response from God.

God will not give Job an explanation.
Instead, Job is given a series of almost annoying rhetorical questions.

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

34“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? 35Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?37Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?  (Job 38:1-7, 34-41, NRSV)

Job demanded answers and explanations for his suffering and when he finally grows silent, God responds with questions. I am sure Job was thrilled.

God doesn’t explain why all this suffering.
God simply directs Job’s attention out, beyond himself and his circumstances, to consider the amazing, miraculous wonder of creation.

Why might God do this? In this key moment in Job’s journey, why might God ask questions?

As we keep reading, we discover that:
Questions forced Job to admit he was not the one in control.
Questions forced him to look to God, instead of looking for answers.
Questions forced Job to see his life in God’s much bigger scheme of things.

Richard Rohr calls this learning to breathe under water. It’s a metaphor for what we do when we finally recognize that there are some things we can’t change.

We give up.
We give into God and God’s way of being in the world.
It’s the way most fully revealed in Jesus.
It’s different from every other way we have tried:
Suffering is the path to healing.
   Surrendering leads to the win.
   Death leads to life.
   We give away to keep. We lose to find.

Unfortunately, we rarely discover this way apart from our own suffering.
We rarely discover this way apart from circumstances that cause us to admit we are not in control.

When Job was at the end of his rope, God asked “do YOU hold it all together?”. The answer of course was “no”.

God is the source of life,
God is the one who created the earth and all who live in it.
God is the one who will set things right.


What is teaching you that you are not in control right now?
What has you baffled, frustrated or feeling hopeless?
And, how might you begin to lose control & begin to live into God’s big scheme of things?
How can you begin breathing under water?

I want to close by reading this poem by Sr. Carol Bieleck, RSCJ from an unpublished work:

Breathing Under Water

I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.
And then one day,
-and I still don’t know how it happened –
the sea came.
Without warning.
Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew, then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors,
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.

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