Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Controlling Idea of My Life

I wrote a bit about this earlier, but I've still been pondering this notion of a story's Controlling Idea--that core statement of truth (or belief...doesn't have to be true) that shapes a protagonist's map of the world and guides his or her ultimate destiny--and wondering about whether or not a Controlling Idea exists in everyone's real life too.

An example of a Controlling Idea might be any of these:
* Ultimate peace comes only when all potential threats are destroyed. (You might say this has been the Controlling Idea of the United States government in recent years.)
* Significance comes only to those who are ruthless in their pursuit of financial success. (Know anyone like this?)
* Meaning and significance come and go at the whim of chance.

A Controlling Idea is just that--an idea that controls everything. Like the rudder of a ship it lurks beneath the surface unseen but in its turning, turns the life. You might call it a Guiding Principle, but that connotes a good idea, and not all Controlling Ideas are necessarily good.

In fact, when it seems a person has embraced a Controlling Idea that's negative or self-destructive, I think what's actually happening is that they have inverted the true Controlling Idea their life is about. Feeling defeated or beaten down by life, they've turned their Controlling Idea on its head, essentially buying into the opposite conclusion of their life's true aim.

For example, a person who's Controlling Ideas seems to be this: "Meaning and significance come and go at the whim of chance," probably has a true Controlling Idea that is its opposite: "Meaning and significance come to those who give their all despite the odds and never give up hope."

Now, here's why I think this is important, and why I've been looking to see whether or what the Controlling Idea of my own life might be: Because we're all living out a story, each one of us. Our common dream, of course, is that this story we're each creating with our lives will be a good one, a hero's tale, rich with intrigue and challenge and even some darkness here and there, but ending well. And yet for many, our intended plot is stunted, held back, put on hold again and again by...by what? a fear? external interference (or so we make up)? laziness?

In a fictional story, the protagonist must pursue the Controlling Idea all the way to its end--he must fully live it out and prove it true--or else the story fails. Could the same be true in real life? Could it be that your Controlling Idea, whatever it may be, represents that core essential quest that you must complete...that singular act of absolute commitment, that overriding pursuit, that thing that you must prove with your life or your life is lost, or at the very least, greatly diminished from what it could have been?

Thoreau noted that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Could that in part be because they do not know what their Controlling Idea is, or, knowing it, have chosen not to pursue it all the way to the end?

I say all that to come to this. I think I know what my Controlling Idea is--the core essential thing that I must prove with my life. The wording may change, but here is the heart of it:

True, powerful, authentic life
comes only to those who willingly lay it all down
for the sake of Love.

If I live that, pursue it all the way to its end, to the end of what it could teach or show through me, then I will have lived my life as it was meant to be. But to the degree that I shrink back from it, I am diminished, and my story is undeniably smaller and incomplete.

What about you? What is the Controlling Idea of your life? Have you given yourself to it fully?


Anonymous said...

Wow . . . I was drawn to this blog because of the name you chose, "Sojourner." This name has particular significance to me . . . related to my "Controlling Idea of My Life" . . . anyhoo . . . God led me to this blog and I just wanted you to know that this struck home for me. Put something important into words I couldn't put my own finger on, except to say that I totally get this. God has been whispering this truth (er, maybe shouting it) for several months. I kept trying to define something about the core of who God created, tailored us to be . . . our own distinct calling, mission and how the enemy creates his own polar scheme to completely steal, kill and destroy this very core heart definition of who we are and what we are meant to do in Christ. Anyway, rambling a bit here but just wanted to say God really spoke to me through this! It spring-boarded a conversation God and I have needed to have for a couple of months now. Thank you so much for sharing . . .

Michael D. Warden said...

Thanks Sunny. Like you, this idea has sparked a conversation with God in my own life that feels critical to me too. May God lead us both to the truth we most need to see about our lives.