I grew up going to a summer camp where the campers would repeat a chant at the start of every day. The Camp Director would call out, “If it’s to be…” and the entire camp would shout back, “It’s up to me!”

I confess that at the time, I didn’t think twice about what kind of mindset this was instilling in me. In the moment, it seemed like a great way to encourage kids to get along, try new things, and make the most of our days spent away from home.

While it’s been decades since I attended that camp and shouted the chant, it continues to be my mode of operation. It seems that with the more kids I have, the life experiences I walk through, and the responsibilities I carry on my plate, the temptation to believe this lie only grows stronger.

When Desire for Control Shapes our Life

What’s most frustrating to me is that I have experienced “that breaking point.” After walking through the near loss of my husband’s life to a brain tumor, you would think that I would know by now that all control lies in the Father’s hands. In the darkest moments of that season, there was nothing I could do but trust in the Lord. Yet here I am today, still believing and living by my childhood summer camp chant.

I relate to the apostle Paul in Romans 7 when he wrestles with himself saying, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (v.15).

I hate believing that it is “up to me” to make things happen in and around my life. Yet I am discipled by a culture that says “YOLO” and to “live my best life.” Whether it’s in manipulating circumstances to work in my favor, taking on a role that is not mine to fill, or just reaching for my phone in a moment of uncertainty, the temptation to believe that God is holding out on me and the resulting grasp for control often rules the functional theology of my life. This desire for security, productivity, and knowledge comes from a deeper belief in the lie that it is up to me to sustain the joy and vitality of myself and my family, which only leads me to feel less secure, more anxious, and out of control.

In the book, The Cost of Control, Sharon Hodde Miller writes, “Instead of entrusting ourselves to God’s goodness, we believe our own control will serve us better…the more we seek control, the less control we feel.” It’s this paradox of control that took root in that tragic garden scene of Genesis 3.

Eve believed the lie that attaining full knowledge would give her more fulfillment than God’s perfect design provided, which included loving limitations. Eve did not consider that “knowing good and evil” would lead to bondage rather than freedom. In taking a bite of the fruit, our first parents opened the floodgates of sin and separated themselves from the loving protection of the Father’s kind boundaries.

Each time we pick up our phones or look to ourselves and others in search of security instead of running to the Lord, it is like we are back in the garden, taking a bite of this forbidden fruit and forsaking the freedom offered to us through dependance upon Him. As Miller pointed out in her book, it is no coincidence that the symbol on the back of our phones is an apple with a bite out of it!

How the Gospel Overcomes our False Beliefs

The good news is that Genesis 3 was not the only garden scene in Scripture. In Matthew 26, we see a detailed account of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the thick of temptation, he falls face down in prayer and cries out to the Father, “not as I will, but as you will” (v.39). Where Eve hid from the presence of God, Jesus sought God so passionately he sweated drops of blood. In Genesis 3, we see the weakness of the flesh that gives in to temptation; in Matthew 26, we see the power of the Spirit that overcomes temptation.

Because of the Gospel’s great reversal, we too can resist the temptation of the evil one to believe, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” The presence of sin is still there, tempting us around every corner. But because of Jesus’ perfect dependence upon the Father in his death that led to resurrection life, the penalty and power of sin no longer reigns in us. Our stories do not have to end like Adam and Eve’s. We can now depend upon God and say “no” to the flesh, freeing us to walk and live in the promised newness of life.

Where are you grasping for knowledge, security, and control rather than leaning in and listening to the loving voice of the Father? What boundaries has he set that you step across in the false belief that fulfillment in life is up to you? Run to the Father. He knows your temptations and yet has provided a way for you to resist them and experience freedom within the loving boundaries of a life lived in dependence upon Him.

“…The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41b).

Photo by Catalin Sandru on Unsplash

Val Peterson

Val Peterson serves as the Communications Director at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. She has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Samford University and enjoys writing, public speaking and teaching as a part of her ministry at OMPC. Val also played soccer at Samford and was recently inducted with her 2005 team into the Samford Sports Hall of Fame. Her passion for exercising continues to shape her daily rhythms of life. She is married to Carson and they have four children who keep them laughing, humble and on their toes!