“Herding cats” describes the futility of trying to control little house cats. Anyone who’s ever lived with one understands the situation.
What about controlling big cats? A true story comes from a young Irish priest working in Africa. He knew people who rehabilitate captive lions and release them into the wild. One day he went with a trainer to check on a recently liberated big cat.
The priest admitted to be afraid of the lions: “They’re huge and strong! Big claws and teeth!”
As the trainer tracked the radio collar on the lion, the priest vowed not to leave the safety of the Jeep, no matter what happened.
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Locating the lion, the trainer got out and called to it. As the priest tells the story, the ground shook and the bushes thrashed as the enormous beast charged toward them. Terrified, he watched it leap upon the trainer … and lick his face!
Lesson learned: the trainer did not have control of the lion, he had a relationship with it.
I used this story in a sermon long ago. I’m not sure what point I was illustrating, but many parents spoke to me afterward, saying how helpful it was in understanding a way forward with their adolescent and teenage children. They saw that building trust and love might get better results than a losing battle for control.
Relationship, not control.
I’ve told the story several times since that sermon, and find that people hear it differently, depending on their spiritual journey.
One version is that we are seeking God. Though God is all-powerful, our “fear” is awe, not dread. We trust in God’s love, forgiveness and generous spirit, and open our arms to receive him.
Another version is that God is seeking us. We are free to roam, even to stray, but God is always with us, calling us into his embrace of love, forgiveness and renewal.
Either way, it’s about relationship, not control.
Our human attempts to control God are endless. Too often we make judgments about other people, make rules about acceptable ideas and behaviors, and misuse the abundance of creation, proclaiming that this is what God wants. And then we pray to God to fix our problems and clean up our messes.
It’s as if we want to control God until things go badly and then we want God to take control. That worked for my driving lessons where the instructor had dual controls that could override mine, but it doesn’t work that way with God.
I believe God is forming us, guiding us, into an on-going relationship that’s built on God’s sovereignty and our God–given freedom.
We build a trusting, loving relationship with the God of grace by both seeking God and being willing to be found; by trusting God’s love and offering it to others; by accepting forgiveness while forgiving others, by living out the truth that God is with us amidst the very real challenges of life.
With God, and with each other, life is about relationship, not control.