African Babies Unwind a Control Freak
The summer after I graduated from college I spent 10 weeks as a missionary in Ghana, West Africa. I fell in love with the people immediately—constantly surrounded by the brightest eyed children grabbing my hands and touching my hair.
Our ministry for those ten weeks was varied but primarily consisted of traveling to different villages to preach the Gospel. I had never counted myself as much of a preacher, but after a few weeks in Africa you too would find yourself shouting an enthusiastic “Jesusssssss” into the church microphone.
(It’s amazing how churches without floors or ceilings always manage to have huge amplification systems that they use, no matter the lack of square footage or need.)
We traveled to the ends of the earth, it felt like, piling into busses and riding bumpily off the beaten trail.
One afternoon we took our bus three hours outside of the nearest small town. Then we piled into a wooden wagon that was pulled roughly behind a tractor. We grabbed a seat on the make-shift benches before we were off—bumping through what was certainly not a path, deep into the African bush.
An hour later (after digging our tractor out of the mud) we reached our destination—a village of people who had never ever seen a white person before. The children stared at us in wonder—taking in our light eyes and strange colored hair before deciding that we were safe, and insisting that we twirl and lift them, never letting go of our hands.
We left the village after just a few hours, knowing that if we got caught in a rainstorm, or worse, in the dark, that it would be nearly impossible to escape the thickly forested ravine. So we piled back into the wagon, ducking and dodging branches and holding on until our knuckles were white—trying to keep from being knocked out by a low-hanging limb.
We held on and laughed and warned each other of oncoming tree branches, feeling our benches rocking back and forth and slipping precariously towards the open end of the wagon.
The bruises on my skin were multiplying fast as I slammed against the wooden sides, over and over again.
It was the bumpiest ride of my life—I’ve never been in a situation where I had to hold on with such vigor, where I felt so completely tense and completely afraid. (We got out and walked for awhile, just for a change of pace.)
We picked up some friends on the way back—a woman carrying a sack of rice in one arm and her baby in the other—hitching a ride for the long trip into town.
And as I held on and gritted my teeth, I looked over at the mother and her baby. The baby was sprawled across its mothers lap, fast asleep, and limp as a noodle.
I was holding on for dear life—barely keeping my eyes open for the most exciting and death-defying moment of my life—while this baby was fast asleep in perfect trust of his mother.
I heard recently that our desire to control things comes out of fear. We fear what we cannot control and so we try to overcome that fear by gripping everything within reach.
I’ve spent the last few weeks wiggling and writhing in the discomfort of being out of control. There are situations in my life that are completely out of my hands. I’m waiting for good things, and trusting the best that I can, but I’m also fearful of being hurt—of the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenarios.
I want to control something—grabbing whatever is in reach and twisting it into something that looks safe and planned. And defensiveness and a hard heart has been my go-to whenever something feels a little too wiggly.
But this isn’t the way I want to live.
There is always the possibility of a worst-case scenario. In this world, in this life, there are a million chances for us to get hurt, to be disappointed and for the “what ifs” to screech into reality. And it often feels like fear or a tight grip of control could prevent the worst.
But that’s not how it works.
When we grip onto life, we miss the beauty that happens when we finally let go. In an effort to control and protect ourselves, we miss out on our ability to be delighted by the moments that take us by surprise.
And so these days I’m working to live more like that baby—relaxed and trusting in my Daddy’s arms, trusting his provision and protection, and enjoying the ride with surprise and delight.
What parts of your life need an extra dose of trust?