Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Controlling the Outcome

As we talk about healing this week, we introduced the topic with a true story from my experiences in healthcare. And one of the first things I think we need to recognize about that story is how easy it is for us to want to put healing into our own hands. 

This person I was talking with wanted to make an active decision. More than anything, they did not want the brokenness they faced to be driving their ship, so to speak. So it seemed to them that the best choice was the one they chose and not one that was forced on them.

And that was the entire hesitation. This person felt trapped - having to choose something in order to not have something forced upon them. But the truth about a decision like this is that being forced to choose necessarily forces the consequences upon us. No matter what this person decided, they did not particularly desire either outcome. 

If this person chose the surgery that would end the seizures, they would be forced to live with short-term memory loss. If this person chose against the surgery in favor of their short-term memory, they would be forced to live with the seizures.

Still, throughout our conversation, this person kept coming back to the idea that it was the choosing itself that was important. It was most important, in fact. It was essential to whatever road lied ahead that this person feel some measure of control over their brokenness, even if it wasn't truly healing. 

We are all tempted to do this. In fact, I think it's the easiest decision we make - the decision to decide at all. 

We believe that the best place for our decision to rest is in our own hands, and even if we're faced with a choice we would never want to make, we will cling to that choice until our weary hands give out because it gives us some feeling that we have some kind of control, even when we actually do not. 

No matter what that person chose, they did not control the outcome of their situation. They might choose the surgery, but that's no guarantee that the surgery goes smoothly or that it is even successful. They might choose against the surgery, but that's no guarantee that they don't have a fatal seizure in the next ten minutes. I would even argue that if the person had been able to listen to the doctor and choose rest, there was no guarantee that rest would be the solution, either. 

This is what is so frustrating, and often, so defeating, about the whole notion of healing to us. We can choose between options, but we still don't control the outcome. We can weigh all of the pros and cons, map out our meaning, make our peace, and choose in one direction or another, but we can't force what happens next. 

The addiction may be broken, or we may fight it with every breath for the rest of our life. The chemo may work, or it may just make our hair fall out. The surgery may be successful, or it might miss a few cells. Or we might acquire an infection in the hospital during recovery. Truthfully, we might walk out of the hospital and get hit by a bus. We just can't ever really know.

And that's really what's absolutely paralyzing for most of us. It's not that we don't like the options that are presented to us (though we might not), it's that we know - at some soul-deep level - that we never really know the outcome even if we know the probabilities. We might decide which path we start down, but we don't determine how that path develops just a few steps later. 

That's just too much for most of us. We don't do well with the unknown. We do particularly poorly with it when we try to convince ourselves that we were certain we knew the unknown before it happened...and this wasn't it.

All that our desperate need for a sense of control gets us is a deep anxiety and an unavoidable gnawing that even what we think we know isn't really knowable and no matter how tightly we clench our fists, there remain things that are out of our control entirely. 

Is there a better way? Yes, but it's not easy. (Of course, it's not.) 

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