• Debbie Salter Goodwin

The Backside of Control


Control is a risky partner. When we are in charge and try to secure something we want or need; it feels right, deserved, and perfectly harmless.


But there is a backside to control. It is the side when control brings our worst nightmare. When it implodes. When it splinters our well-laid plans. When people are hurt.


Again Sarai’s story helps us confront the stark reality that control is not always good. In fact, it can do more damage than good.


Sarai made her plan that Abram should use the culturally acceptable process of fathering an heir through a servant. She had no trouble convincing Abram to execute it. She is quite pleased with her selfless surrender of marital rights for the greater good.


However, she didn’t realize that she was giving her Egyptian servant control. Hagar became the pregnant one. She was the heir-bearer. She was the one who had Abram’s attention because she carried his baby.


And Hagar played it for all it was worth. She probably used every excuse in the book to get out of work. She ripped control out of Sarai’s hands. Once again, Sarai became voiceless and vulnerable, but not in a foreign harem. This time it was in her own tent!


When a controller becomes the controlled, it isn’t a pretty picture.


Who’s at fault here? The truth is everyone must shoulder part of the blame, but none will. And that’s when this story puts both women and Abram at risk of losing everything they want, in spite of what they thought they controlled.


What happens when control backfires?

  • ·Do you complain and play the poor me card because nothing goes right?

  • Do you track it back to the last place where you were in control to see what went wrong and made an adjustment?

  • Do you uncover some need you were trying to meet? Security? Love? Understanding? Power?

I don’t think of myself as a controlling person. I’m just a planner, right? And yet . . . when I am very honest and introspective, I see it in my life. Not in big world-changing ways. Certainly not with the intention to hurt someone or make anything worse. It’s the subtle places where I try to exert control but not in God-blessed ways.


That’s when my plan becomes more about what I want than what someone else needs. With that subtle shift, I am in danger of blaming someone else for the results I caused.


Sarai blamed Abram for taking Hagar even though it was Sarai’s idea. Sarai also blamed Hagar for following her plan. What was a servant to do but follow orders? Hagar couldn’t take any more of Sarai's cruelty and blame, so sheran away.


Blaming is a sidetrack strategy. We try to absolve ourselves of responsibility for the plan we set in motion. We hide behind someone else’s bad behavior, so we don’t have to admit our own. It may work with the people around us, but it never works with God.

Perhaps the most important proof of this is that God didn’t rescue Sarai; God rescued Hagar. She became the one who was the vulnerable and voiceless. Sarai still had her voice and it was a loud one! But that’s a story for next week. Until then, keep this scripture attached to any plan you make and remember Who is and isn’t in control!




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