Control Freak


Image: Creative Commons


“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Control freak! Now you gotta say Control freak who?”


After I stopped laughing at this student’s joke, inwardly I cringed. We teachers can be control freaks. In all fairness, though, it’s kind of expected of us.

We’re expected to be in control of our classrooms. We’re expected to maintain order and not allow things to descend into chaos. We have to act as managers of many things all at once, all the time.

There’s a difference, however, between governing and dominating. Students do appreciate it when a teacher keeps control of the class, but no one wants a Nazi for a teacher. It’s one thing to helpfully guide and contain your class, and quite another to act as if you have to control every aspect of it.

It’s not healthy to regulate students so tightly that they can’t breathe. Not all, but some of the decisions about their learning have to be theirs. They need to be allowed to make attempts at things without being hovered over to ensure success.

There are times it’s painful to let them make decisions that we know are going to lead to hardship and grief. It can be difficult to let go and watch a student struggle with something, and even fail.

What can also be challenging for teachers is not to carry over the watchfulness we have over our classrooms into our daily lives and relationships. I was just talking about this challenge with a new teacher-friend this week. We agreed, sometimes it’s tempting for us to go into control-freak-mode and try to manage situations that we should be keeping our hands off of.

Why can it be so hard to shake that mind-set, “If I don’t do something about this, then no one else will”?

That mind-set reveals an attitude of pride and unbelief.

Pride says, “I’m the only one who is willing to do anything to help in this situation.”

Unbelief says, “God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about this.”

So operating in pride and unbelief, we meddle in situations we have no business meddling in, all the while telling ourselves that we are trying to help. The truth of the matter is, we’d be better off minding our own business and leaving the person or situation to God.

Yes, there are times when it’s difficult to know whether or not we should intervene and act. But something I’m learning (oh so slowly it seems!) is that I have to check my heart and my motives.

  • Is pride in charge of me? Do I think that I have the right solution, and that I know what’s best?
  • Am I harboring unbelief? Do I think it’s all up to me, and that God seems to be asleep?
  • Am I operating out of fear? Am I afraid of what will happen if I don’t get involved, and am I trying to control the outcome to make it turn out the way I’d like it to?
  • Have I made myself too important in my own eyes? Am I forgetting that God has other servants who are available to Him, perhaps someone much better suited for this situation than I am?

I also think there is a direct correlation between how desperately we desire something and how likely it is that we will try to control the outcome. The more it matters to us, the more tempting it will be to meddle.

So, what’s the cure when we find ourselves slipping into ctrl-freak territory?

The first thing is recognising what we’re doing wrong, and confessing that to God, and to those who will keep us accountable for not doing it anymore.

Repentance involves agreeing with God that I’ve been operating from a place of pride and unbelief, and affirming that He is God and I am not.

If I think that I love a person more than God does, I am seriously deluded. When we ask why God would allow suffering, though, isn’t that what we’re calling into question? So I have to repent of how I am questioning His love, and affirm that His love is so much higher than mine, and His ways are higher than my ways.

I’m in Genesis this week, and as I read again of Abraham binding his son Isaac to the altar, I was struck afresh by his trust in the faithfulness and love of God. That trust was unshakable, even in the face of what seemed like a cruel joke.

That trust in the Father’s loving character was shown supremely in Jesus Christ as He faced the cross, and allowed God to have His way with Him, because He knew beyond all insinuations to the contrary that God loved Him.

When we trust in the Father’s loving heart and allow Him to control us, then we can respond in faith to His promptings and obey Him in what He is asking of us in regard to others. We let Him be in control and with an attitude of trust and faith, we release the outcome to Him.

There’s a little song I learned this year at our school musical, and the lyrics are so appropriate:

God is in control

God. is. in. control.

God is in control

My God is in control…

The God who is the very definition of love is in control, so I don’t have to be.

The Hardest Part of Teaching

Image: Creative Commons

Image: Creative Commons


By Tina Olesen

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that the hardest part of teaching is having to keep the pressure on your students to do the things they do not want to do.

You don’t get a lot of thanks for continually telling your students to “focus” or “finish your job” or “quiet down”.

When your students seem to be hard of hearing and they are ignoring you…

When you’ve told a child something for the tenth time that morning…

When your students have to do something hard, and they are whining, and you feel like whining, too…

This is the least exciting part of being a teacher, and one I have to discipline myself to do! How much easier it would be to let my students off the hook, to let them fool around, to let them disobey me. Yet, I would not be serving their best interests.

How do you keep at it?

When I was a beginning teacher, my assigned teaching mentor recommended that I set up a “token economy” in my classroom, so my students would get “points” for compliance, which they could trade in for rewards. She argued that we have to motivate them to obey. I found out quickly that it only resulted in the children becoming increasingly selfish. When I would ask them to do something, they would say, “What are you going to give me if I do it?”

If we pay our students to comply, they aren’t going to learn how to make themselves do the things they don’t want to do, even when there’s nothing in it for them.

If we want to see our students grow up into men and women who will do the right thing, not because there’s anything in it for them, but just because it’s the right thing, then we won’t bribe [1] them to do it. But that will mean patiently dealing with resistance on the part of our students.

There is always the temptation to try to gain the hearts of our students by buying their affections. We want to feel good, we want to be liked. These affections are shallow, though. What runs deeper is when a child can look in your eyes and know that you love him enough to hold him accountable and voluntarily (even cheerfully) suffer his apparent hatred.

And so teaching is a vehicle for dying to self. Will I do the right thing by my students, even when it means willingly suffering their complaints, ingratitude, rebellion?

The question is, doesn’t Jesus suffer mine?

The hardest part of teaching is not dealing with the monotony of repeating the same instructions over and over again, or forcing myself to be faithful in the little things of child training.

The hardest part of teaching is looking into the face of your little rebellious student and recognising yourself there. It is continually coming face to face with my own pride, my own impatience, my own sin. It is agreeing with Jesus about it, and facing the fact that I am helpless to do anything to change it. Pride does not want to acknowledge that Jesus shed His own blood so that my sin could be dealt with.

So, I turn my back on my pride, and I come to Him. Perpetually. Humbly. Desperately. I let His love convict me. And He is right there, to cleanse, to forgive, to heal.

This is the glorious truth I can offer my students: the truth that although we are all rebellious sinners (myself included), Jesus came to save us from ourselves.

Last week, the seniors of our church were having a meeting together in the room beneath my classroom. I heard them singing and I paused for a moment and joined my heart in song with theirs:


Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,

Jesus, I come to Thee;

Out of my sickness, into Thy health,

Out of my want and into Thy wealth,

Out of my sin and into Thyself,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


Out of my shameful failure and loss,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,

Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,

Out of distress to jubilant psalm,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


Out of unrest and arrogant pride,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy blessèd will to abide,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,

Out of despair into raptures above,

Upward for aye on wings like a dove,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the joy and light of Thy throne,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the depths of ruin untold,

Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,

Ever Thy glorious face to behold,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


[1] (Yes, of course there are times I give my students treats, to celebrate together. I’m not knocking that! It’s just not tied to performance. It’s a free gift.)


The Vanity of Self-Esteem

narcissus caravaggio

by Tina Olesen

I’m not really sure who popularised the notion of self-esteem as being an essential need of every human being, but I know who was behind it: the father of lies. It seems to have picked up steam in popular psychology in the 1960s and ballooned from there.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, included self-esteem in his “hierarchy of needs” theory which many of us may recall from Psychology 101. What I don’t recall hearing about in that class was that Maslow probably developed this theory out of his work with monkeys. Maslow thought that some needs took precedence over others, such as thirst over hunger. From this idea he developed a theory that when one’s physiological needs are met then other psychological “needs” will arise, and he put these so-called “needs” in a hierarchy of importance. Self-esteem was a “need” placed near the top of what Maslow thought it would take to fulfill one’s potential. His faulty premise for thinking was that self-actualization was the purpose of life.

Not surprisingly, near the end of his career Maslow tipped over into transpersonal psychology. He began to explore the idea of “self-transcendence”. In Toward a Psychology of Being, he said, “We need something ‘bigger than we are’ to be awed by and to commit ourselves to in a new, naturalistic, empirical, non-churchly sense…” Sadly, Maslow completely missed the point that we were made “to be awed by and to commit ourselves” to Jesus Christ.

One only has to look at the example of Christians like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom to debunk Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When sisters Corrie and Betsie were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, they were often hungry, sick, cold and exhausted. In the midst of their suffering in that horrific place, they displayed remarkable courage, faith, patience, and love for their fellow prisoners. Their lives glorified God and drew people to Jesus Christ, thus fulfilling their true purpose.

The premise for living for the Christian is to exalt and magnify Jesus Christ, not to promote and actualize ourselves. As John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Paul put it this way to the Galatian church: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Concerning ourselves with seeking self-actualization or self-esteem is completely anti-Christian, besides being totally counterproductive. Jesus tells us why: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it… Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”

It’s quite astounding to see how much acceptance the notion of self-esteem has gained in parenting and educational circles, and how far reaching its influence has been. In the last few decades, “low self-esteem” quickly became the explanation or excuse offered for nearly any kind of bad behavior in a child. She’s pouting? She’s just feeling bad about herself. He’s bullying? He doesn’t like himself so he hurts others.

Parents felt guilty if they didn’t heap enough flattery on their child: “You’ll hurt his self-esteem!” It was as if the child’s whole future hung in the balance if he didn’t gain a favourable view of himself. Some educators began to worry about children getting a poor self-concept if they got a low mark on something or didn’t win an award, which resulted in the equal distribution of undeserved praise. Everybody’s special and everybody’s a champion… really?

Excessive self-consciousness is the bad fruit of the self-esteem movement. This phenomenon is well-documented in social media today. Not only are many kids overly concerned with how they look, but they may spend hours carefully crafting an image fit for their web presence, taking “selfies” that will boost their online appearance. Idolatry of the self is where self-esteem psychology logically ends up.

As a culture, we’ve lost our healthy fear of pride. It seems we’re no longer repulsed by Narcissus. The danger of “getting a swelled head” used to be something people guarded against. Of pride, C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“..It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began… pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

Thomas Watson said rightly that “All Christian growth is finally growth in humility.”

Humility isn’t beating yourself up or always talking about your faults – that would just be another form of excessive self-concern. Oswald Chambers accurately observed, “There is nothing more awful than conscious humility, it is the most Satanic type of pride… Jesus Christ presented humility as a description of what we shall be unconsciously when we have become rightly related to God and are rightly centred in Jesus Christ.”

Rather than concerning ourselves with building self-esteem, we ought to be humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6). Jesus Christ is the definition of humility.

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