Hi, My Name is Cheri…
…and I’m a Control Freak
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who tried to be good. I grew up knowing all the rules, and wanting to follow them.
I was a “good girl.”
By my freshman year of high school, everyone expected me to be good, so I decided to aim for perfect scores on every single Geometry test the entire year. With enormous effort, I pulled this off for two full quarters . . . until, in disbelief, I watched Mr. Vickers red pen mark “minus 1” on my “perfect” test. I ran from the room, hid behind the gym, and cried for 2 hours.
Well, that minus 1 may have knocked me down, but I was no quitter. I decided what I really needed was a 4.0 GPA for all four years of high school. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate in being a GOOD girl?
A Very Good Girl
In my journal, that October, I wrote:
I’m expected to bring home good grades — nobody seems to realize that I DO have to work for them! They don’t just happen!
I’ve learned not to expect praise for anything I do, but somewhere inside me the little girl still drops a tear or two when it doesn’t come. I could let it get me down and just stop trying, but I still have to do my best for me — a hard taskmaster.
But, even though I’ve written all this, it doesn’t bother me a lot. In fact, I didn’t realize half of it before it came out of my pen! I live with it, though at times, I am just a bit wistful.
What started out as a personal challenge became a drive to “succeed” at all cost. And I defined “succeed” as doing lots of GOOD things and being very GOOD at them: 4.0 GPA, yearbook editor, Student Body Religious Vice President, plus community volunteer work.
What I didn’t know at the time is that my family needed me to succeed — needed me to be a very GOOD girl. All I knew was that I had a secret, and it was driving me crazy.
My older brother had “confided” in me that he was doing drugs. Pot, heroine, cocaine, and others I’d never heard of. And along with all the sordid details, came the dire warning, “but don’t you dare tell Mother and Daddy!” That day, I picked up a burden far too great for a 14-year-old to bear.
Night after night I lay awake, wondering if he’d come home safely or if we’d get a knock on the door from a police officer. Day after day for one long year, I struggled. Keeping the secret didn’t seem to be what a GOOD daughter would do. Telling my parents didn’t seem to be what a GOOD sister would do. I didn’t know what to do, and I had nobody to turn to for help. I felt so alone.
Finally, during one sleepless night when he still wasn’t home at 3:00 am, I slipped, and the truth came out. My brother was so angry with me because I wasn’t supposed to tell! My parents were so angry with me because I hadn’t told them sooner.
In my journal that day, I wrote:
I really don’t know how to feel or what to do — I’m sort of dead to it all, now. Somehow it doesn’t effect me, yet it must; I guess I’m shying away from the pain as long as I can.
And then, on a seemingly unrelated subject:
I’m starting a diet today.
The Control Trap
And did I ever get “GOOD” at that diet. Over the next year, as the turmoil of my brother’s issues raged loudly in the house, I quietly lost pound after pound after pound . . . and proudly became thinner and thinner and thinner. My periods stopped. My hipbones stuck out.
My entire focus in life narrowed down to being GOOD at this one thing: losing weight.
Well, I got so “good” at losing weight that I was admitted to an inpatient Eating Disorder Hospital program with the diagnosis of Anorexia. Six weeks of therapy, assertiveness training, and nutritional counseling had minimal effect.
All I’d ever wanted was to be a “good girl,” and I was really good at this weight loss thing. And I was no quitter! I was not ready to give it up, yet — maybe once lost a little more and hit my goal (85 pounds) but not before.
Controlled to Death
One night, after a particularly rough family counseling session — “rough” because my counselor was once again pushing me to share my feelings with my parents, something a GOOD girl was not going to do — I opened my Bible, hoping to read myself to sleep. In Psalm 18, I read:
the snares of death confronted me.
This jarred me awake. I realized this was me! I was dying. Anorexia was not just a diet. Anorexia was committing suicide…slowly.
I cried to my God for help!
Really?!? There was someone I could go to for help? I was not alone? I was in “distress” and I could call to God for help?!
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
God’s response was dramatic — he was angry, but not at me — he was angry for me! I read on and found that His version of “help” included lightning bolts, thunder, and earthquakes.
I was WOWed! Here was someone I could trust to really take control of my out-of-control life!
And on that day, 30 years ago, this last line read as a personal note from God to this wistful little girl who just wanted to be good enough to be loved:
He rescued me because he delighted in me.
Not because of my perfect performances, not because of my 4.0, not because I was Religious Vice Anything.
God delighted in me!
God delighted in me.
God delighted in me!
From Very Good Girl to Very Good News
The details of your life story no doubt differ from mine.
Perhaps, in your own way, you’ve tried to be a “good girl.” Good enough to be loved.
Whatever your “once upon a time” has included thus far, God – “the author and finisher of our faith” – loves writing our stories of freedom.
- When we give Him control, our stories no longer dwell on condemnation.
- When we give Him control, our stories celebrate belonging.
- When we give Him control, our stories overflow with the power of the life-giving Spirit.
When we give Him control, we will have good news to tell and retell – our stories of how Jesus has set us free!
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