30 January 2017

The Illusion of Control

There was what some have labeled "a terrorist attack" in our town last night. One or two armed men went into a mosque at the end of evening prayers and started shooting. Six dead. Several more injured, some gravely.

I spent a nice chunk of time today listening to radio commentators discuss the event, listening to some of my Quebecois friends talk about the event, listening to my daughter explain how orchestra practice today was watching a movie because the teacher was stressed and distressed by the event. Each of these conversations was characterized by disbelief that such an event had happened here, and by a trepidation of what else might happen - of what such an attack signified for their future.

People here, at least for the next few days, will feel unsettled and as though life seems out of control. Distant events and tragedies that only happen in far away places on the news just happened down the hill. It isn't supposed to happen like that - and unless you live life like a roller coaster junkie, most don't like that feeling, especially when it touches things that are valued and precious, like life. When terrorism and violence strike close to home (i.e. less than 10 miles from my house), you get a healthy glimpse of what is reality for many in this world.

It makes people used to the insulation very uncomfortable, indignant and wondering if their world is careening out of control.

It is - if they are wondering about their ability to keep "life" under control.

One of the things I learned quickly after moving overseas was that most of the control that I thought I had was, in reality, nothing more than illusion.

The first time I felt terrorist activity hit close to home, the owner of a radio station where Tim had some of our weekly radio programs broadcast drove over a bomb buried in the sand, in town, in Niamey. He died. The next day we were warned when driving on unpaved roads to make sure you followed the clear tracks of a previous vehicle and to never drive through loose sand. At first it was scary. Then it became habit, one that I didn't even realize was so ingrained until we moved back to the States and I actually drove down a dirt road. I felt uneasy and didn't know why until I realized that it was because I couldn't follow any tracks - it had been too dry and the wind quickly did away with any tracks.

The next time, two expats were kidnapped from a restaurant, literally just down the street from our doctor's office and a few blocks distant from our organization's office.

Next, it was watching helicopters fly up the river, by and over our house, fighting terrorists who'd captured several cities in the northern part of Mali.

Then it was the admonition to take a different path to any regular place so that habits and patterns weren't obvious.

Or having soldiers search through the groceries in the back of the car because we lived within the security perimeter surrounding the US Embassy.

Or having our pastor call us and tell us to stay home from church because they feared expat presence might further draw attention to their worship service.

Or being told to shelter in place the day my parents were to arrive for a visit. There'd been a prison break, and no one knew for sure what was going on in town. My biggest fear was that we wouldn't be able to get to the airport to get my mom and dad.

Or receiving a message from one friend still serving in Niamey that another friend from a sister organization had been kidnapped by terrorists.

The nature of these sorts of events is that usually, you don't know you are in danger until it is too late. There is no way to know. You are going about life, not engaging in any sort of risky behavior and then...

I don't fear terrorism. I despise it. My heart aches for those who've lost because of it, for those touched by it, for those who feel they have to resort to using it. I don't want such violence to touch me or those I know and love. I don't want it to touch anyone, anywhere. I think there are things we can do to be wise and to minimize danger. But apart from God's protection and His decision that He still has things on this earth for me to do, I don't think I can control if such an event happens to me or not. Not by where I choose to live. Not by who I choose to allow into my life. Not by who I choose to try and keep out of my country.

What I do fear is the potential influence that such events have on those around me, those who still live with this illusion that some formula or set of procedures will give them control and keep such an event from taking place in their town, or from harming them or someone they care about. Those aren't bad desires, but decisions and procedures and policies that develop out of a spirit of fear - that is the real power given to those who choose to manipulate by terror. "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but has given us His Spirit, who fills us with power, love and sound mind." (how one back translation of 2 Timothy 2.7 - my life verse - has been rendered, but I don't remember which one any more).

I fear the me-first, sensationalistic and materialistic world - and what my children are learning as they become adults in a society that worships self, fame, money, sex and power. I fear that even with diligence, it will creep into our worldviews, and? We. Won't. Even. Notice.

As I was talking with one of my girls about the events that transpired in Quebec City last night, and the reactions she saw at school today, she made an interesting observation: "Mama, we aren't like other religions. We don't need the government protecting us because we already have an all powerful Someone protecting us." We have God on our side.

I'm not in control. It isn't a comfortable feeling. And I don't want to imply that I've figured out the right course of action to take. But what I've been reading of late makes me very, very uncomfortable...

Not being in control isn't nearly as scary as wondering what consequences there will be if we allow fear to become the motivating factor in our decisions - all to try and maintain some illusion of control.

photo credit: gmayster01 on & off 

photo credit: P. Marioné 


  1. Amen, dear Richelle. Said so well. Hugs....

  2. "Not being in control isn't nearly as scary as wondering what consequences there will be if we allow fear to become the motivating factor in our decisions - all to try and maintain some illusion of control."
    Precisely what's been worrying me these past months. We need so much to rely on God for the right response to these events, instead of reacting with hatred or fear.

    1. When we came back from Niger in 2013, I thought I'd be relieved to have access to better medical care, family, educational opportunities, etc. In one way, I was - but it didn't take me long to realize that we lost a lot, too. In the west, we live with the illusion that WE are in control and that if we take the right steps, we will achieve the results we want. We try and avoid risk. Personally, I think one of the consequences of that is that we depend on self - or government - or family - instead of depending upon God and fall into an insidious idolatry that we don't even recognize. Fearing for the spiritual health of those I love, fearing for my spiritual health - is a far more profound fear with potential consequences far more terrifying because they are eternal ~

      Thanks for commenting! :-)

  3. Well said Richelle. I enjoyed this. Lots to think about.


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