Confessions of a Grieving Control Freak

My friend Les asked me to write something about my grieving journey for his blog ...

In March of 1990 my life fell apart.

Ellen, my wife of 19 years, had a heart attack and kidney failure.

In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her.

Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, was stopped.

I slowly died on the inside.

It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the control issues that surrounded me and lived deep within me.

As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker.

And my frustration got stronger and stronger.

I had no control over what was happening.

My children began having problems in school.

They too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health.

All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it.

All of the things in life that I thought I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes.

Everything that was important to me was falling apart.

I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family. My 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter and me.

We were all devastated at my wife’s death.

We all expected her to get well.

That is what we prayed for.

I believed in healing and miracles.

Standing by her side I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last.

The aftermath of her death found my son and my daughter struggling with diverse issues and me dealing with a broken theology.

I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts.

Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life.

These ‘of course’ were all based in scripture and encompassed words like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’.

Unclear to me was the real issue – living by rules put me in control.

For years I lived the life of a ‘led by the Spirit’ Christian when in truth I was more like a rules following control freak.

Sadly, my legalistic approach to life and Christianity bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scriptures the same way I did.

When my wife was sick the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility.

I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks.

Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemodialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking.

I was losing control.

I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option.

I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The years after my wife’s passing brought many changes in my life.

That major theme of losing control seemed to subtly resurface as my children began to outwardly grieve the loss of their mom.

‘Control’ is a major battlefield for one trapped in black and white thinking.

It is all about ‘control’.

That brings me to the end of 2002.

I had remarried and Ann, my new wife, was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis.

I was beside myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.

He spoke to me about life and living.

About letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling.

He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived.

God was beginning to slay my desire to be in control.

Little did I know how much this would be tested over the coming years.

In the summer of 2007 my wife had another relapse of this nasty neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica.

This time she did not bounce back like the many times before.

This time she could not walk.

This time she would need to use a wheelchair to get around.

And she does to this day.

In January 2008 I read this quote from G. K. Chesterton:
“Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?”
It got me crying.

And over the following months I became convinced that God was leading me to leave my job as a pastor.

That summer I retired to minister full time at home.

I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress.

I try to see issues in the color gray rather than in black and white.

I do things these days that have clear boundaries.

I listen more to the advice of friends and family.

I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

And in all things I remember that God loves me and wants me to trust Him.

Not that I always do.

After all, trust is an issue of letting go and giving up control. :)


  1. Ahh, Bob. Your message draws up horrible and touching memories of my own. Thanks for being open, transparent and sharing of your pain and journey.

    1. Thanks Bob. I know that you understand as few others are able to. I appreciate you.

  2. Thank you for your transparency Bob. I so appreciate it.
    I may not have gone through the same difficulties as you but my world has control issues too.
    It's all about Trust and it is a daily walk of surrender to Him.
    I think I am just really beginning to understand how much God really loves me.
    Give Ann an extra hug today from me, thanks.

    1. So true Sue. Thanks for the comment. I sometimes think that grieving is an exercise in losing control and embracing trust.

  3. Thank you for sharing. I lost my stepfather in Jan. and my mother in Feb. 2013. I left for a week at the beach in Gulf Shores since I am so angry because I can't control it all. My father abused me physically and sexually. And factors of my stepfathers abuse have come to light since his death. Half into my week I get the call from my husband that stepson who lives with us has been physically abused by his mother which spins me into overdrive. CONTROLLING is ingrained in my persona. I want to learn on giving it all up to the Lord. Thanks for giving me one more step. God's angels come in all forms :)

    1. I so relate to ingrained control Beth! Letting go and trusting has been a long journey for me. Guess I feel that I am still baby stepping it one day at a time.

  4. Thanks so much for your transparency.

  5. Thank you for that. I struggled in a different way yet none the less painful. I grew up around a church that taught that if you prayed right and did really believed in God that your entire family would be saved and if they weren't it was of your doing. So in 2001 when my dad died unsaved I was knocked lower than low but it was the beginning of a journey on the right path and relearning so many things I was taught. i am so much happier in my walk with Christ now and feel such a deep closeness with Him since I stopped living a faith that basically told me that God was just looking to punish me or that my family's salvation was in my hands.

    1. What a great story Michelle!! Thanks for sharing it. I can so relate to that journey of unlearning and relearning.

  6. Well I know the control problem. I was preparing to go into the ministry when my wife developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It does not help that in those days no one knew there was such a thing as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And all the doors closed (it probably did not help that I have enough odd theological opinions it makes it hard for me to fit in anywhere). And I still struggle some 35 years later that if I just try harder or had just made the right decisions I could have made thing turn out the way I wanted them to. Being a control freak is a hard thing to break.

    1. I think a church would have been blessed to have you on staff Mike. I love our conversations on your blog and how your thinking challenges me to look deeper and think better. That said, I definitely agree with your last statement above. :)

  7. Bob, thank you for sharing your story. How blessed your wife is to have you. ((HUGS))

    1. Thanks Debbie! Mostly I think that Ann blesses me way more than I bless her!

  8. When you get to be "our age". You see many loved ones pass on. Even though I had no close relationship to my dad, there are times when his memory invades my thoughts. Sometimes triggered by music or a photo, I find myself weeping inwardly, if not outwardly. Your story has touched us all. Lessons from life always have the greatest impact.

    1. I can so relate Eddie to remembering and weeping inwardly.

  9. Bob, thank you for sharing this. Giving up the illusion of control is a hard lesson that I have had to learn over the past eight years. I'm still learning, but it is liberating.


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