Control vs. Going With the Flow

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by Michael Maciel

You either control your own destiny or you let others control it for you.

Does the word “control” bother you? Sounds like hubris, doesn’t it, as if we have any say over what the universe does or doesn’t do. But, what’s the alternative? Going with the flow doesn’t seem to work, not when we’re in turbulent waters—our lives hardly resemble a slow-moving stream. They’re more like white water rapids punctuated by waterfalls and unexpected tributaries, some of which are dead ends. Going with the flow is a pipe dream, is it not?

The only time going with the flow makes sense is when we set our sights on a goal and then hand it over to God to direct us to it according to divine wisdom and right action. But unless we aim at something, there is no flow, only chaos.

The word “sin” comes from a Greek word, “harmartia.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it thus:

“Harmartia arose from the Greek verb hamartanein, meaning ‘to miss the mark’ or ‘to err.’ Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero’s downfall. As you can imagine, the word is most often found in literary criticism. However, news writers occasionally employ the word when discussing the unexplainable misfortune or missteps of übercelebrities regarded as immortal gods and goddesses before being felled by their own shortcomings.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake of all is to aim at nothing at all but rather to drift through life “going with the flow.” It’s very easy to get lost when we don’t know where we’re going. And knowing where we’re going is key to our success, both materially and spiritually. But knowing where we’re going is also problematic because we don’t always know. Aiming too high often leads to disappointment and despair, and aiming too low quickly leads to either overconfidence or boredom or both. How do we know what to aim for? The answer is we don’t. But just as some writers are blocked from writing a novel because of the sheer enormity of the project, so can we get discouraged if we think we have to get it right the first time.

The reality of goal-setting is that as we progress towards the thing we’re aiming at, the scenery changes. The topography of our understanding begins to reveal itself in unexpected ways. So, we have to adjust our course. We might start off in an inappropriate direction, but, as it turns out, that doesn’t matter nearly as much as simply getting started. Ever try to turn the steering wheel of a parked car that doesn’t have power steering? It’s nearly impossible. But get the car moving, even a little bit, and steering it becomes a lot easier. So, if you’re stuck, it doesn’t really matter which way you point yourself. Any direction will do. The point is to get in motion. Once you’re moving, it’s easy to change direction.

Let’s say you own a company and someone comes in and asks for a job. You ask them, “What can you do?” How the person answers will determine whether you hire them, right? Well, the same goes for asking God, “God, what is your will for me? What should I do with my life?” And God answers, “What can you do?” Or, maybe it’s “What do you want to do?” How you answer will determine whether your life is successful or not. Besides, how can it be successful if you don’t have a direction, a goal? What does success mean in the absence of a purpose? Nothing. So, God needs you to have a direction, one that comes from within you, not persuaded from without, one that comes straight out of your soul, before God can help you. That’s the deal. That’s how we grow spiritually. If we can’t come up with a meaningful goal for ourselves, we will have to suffer through a lot of random circumstances until we get tired of bumping into things, making one mistake after another. Establish a direction—any direction—and the universe kicks into gear. It wants nothing more than for us to succeed. That is, by definition, the love of God.

But what if you don’t know what you want? Maybe you want a lot of things and they’re not all that compatible. This is really not a dilemma. All you have to do is ask yourself not what you want but what you LOVE. That is what you actually want, whether you acknowledge it or not. We must all be true to our first love. And by “first,” I don’t necessarily mean what came first in your life but what comes up first when you ask yourself, “What do I love?” That’s your first love. And asking the question in this way also lets us avoid having to decide whether our wants are merely our base desires, the needs and addictions of the body. I mean, it’s pointless to ask a crack cocaine addict what he wants, right? You’ll get the same answer every time. The heart, however, the keeper and recorder of your first love, is above the needs and addictions of the body. It registers the desires of the soul. And, it’s never wrong, not when it comes to that. No amount of reasoning or justification can override it. Your first love may atrophy over long periods of time if you ignore it, but it will blossom if it’s exercised in the full light of day.

We must all be very serious about being true to our first love. It’s the one thing that we will have to account for when we die. Were we true to it, or did we waste our time pursuing someone else’s agenda? This is an all-important question, one we need to revisit frequently if our lives are to have meaning—in a cosmic sense, that is.

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