So what does life without manipulation look like? May I suggest you study the life of Christ? More specifically, might we study His teachings as in the Sermon on the Mount?
Remember, manipulation always has a selfish motive. Jesus’ motives were never selfish. He was motivated by love. His entire life and very meaning of His death were motivated by love for His spiritual brothers and sisters. Everything He taught said the same wonderful message. There is no selfish motive in the Good Samaritan or servant who magnified his Talent. There is no manipulation in healing the sick or raising the dead. Often he invited those He blessed to “tell no man.” There was no ulterior or insidious motive in rescuing the woman taken in adultery, nor in his invitation to her to go her “way and sin no more.” There is no manipulation in turning the other cheek or going the second mile or loving your neighbor as yourself. Finding your life is about manipulation and that is why Jesus invited us to lose our lives in the service of other.
If we will pattern our lives after that of Christ we will learn to avoid the harm and danger of manipulation.
I had been reading the Beatitudes one time when I was issued a challenge. A Young Men President from a neighboring Stake challenged me to a contest to see who could get the best attendance at Scout Round Table each month. I had been impressed with Jesus’ teachings and wanted to put them to the test. I didn’t discuss my approach with my friend. He just went his way and I went mine, or rather the Lord’s.
My friend and a member of his Stake Presidency who were both avid Scouters devised a plan to have competitive attendance. Their method was to go to Round Table, roll in hand and, counting heads, determine who was not there. Then they went into the lobby and phoned all of the absentees strongly encouraging them to be there. I never listened to those phone conversations, nor did I hear what was said when these two brethren upped the ante by actually leaving the meeting and going to their homes to drag the “slackers” out. So, I can only imagine the methods they used to be manipulative. Guilt trips, scolding and shaming are distinct possibilities.
Consulting the Lord’s teachings I set upon another plan. I decided to send individual invitations to each man who might benefit from the meeting. I explained the purpose of the meeting and what they might gain by attending. Then I went to the meeting, participated and helped to see that it was a beneficial use of the participants’ time. I too, took roll to see who had not attended, but my purpose was different. I wanted to gather handouts and take notes for each absent brother so I could convey the information that he had missed to him personally. I took a day or two to transcribe my notes and personalize a packet for each missing brother. Then, I personally took each brother his packet. I would ring the door bell and when answered say something like, “We had a wonderful Round Table the other night. I was sorry you couldn’t make it and was sure you’d want to know what you missed. I’ve prepared this little folder full of material from the meeting that I think you’ll find beneficial in your program.”
I then thanked the brother for his wonderful service to the young men in his charge and praised him for his valiant efforts and left.
My friends from the other Stake really kicked my tail for the first couple of months. They also got wind of my method and scoffed; saying that I was going to turn my brethren in to little dependent pansies who would learn to take advantage of their patsy of a leader, for everything, while never learning to stand on their own two feet.
How surprised we all were when my, non-manipulated group began to turn up in far greater numbers than theirs. Their method began to fail because those brethren soon learned to hide from the sheep dogs who were attempting to drive them to the meeting. They wouldn’t answer their phones and made it a point to be away from the house on that particular night each month. Their roundup to Roundtable began to be a disaster.
In the meantime, my brethren felt safe in coming. They weren’t under any kind of threat, or burdened by any measure of guilt. The packets proved useful and the invitations to attend in person began to make sense. Those brethren knew they were loved and appreciated for their service in a difficult job and came to realize that I and those at Round Table were only trying to make their task easier to perform. They became willing to follow their shepherd.
I must admit that this was just an experiment at first. I was not at all certain that it would work. I will also admit that being a neutral observer was difficult, but I was determined not to taint the results by resorting to my old manipulative methods. No one was more surprised than I to see the miraculous results that came of this experiment. I am happy to report that I became a whole hearted convert in the process and will ever be grateful for the blessing of having tried to pattern my behavior after that of the Master. I can only wonder how much better I might have done if I had believed in the beginning instead of, in a measure, faking it. Thankfully, by the end of the process, I didn’t have to fake it any more.
This and myriad other opportunities to pattern my life after the Savior have taught me, line upon line and precept upon precept, to remove manipulation from my life. I don’t need the credit for anyone’s praiseworthy deeds, not even my own. I have learned to give the glory to God, for truly it is He who permits, empowers and guides my worthy efforts.
Now, let me offer a few observations about frustration. Have you noticed the more entrenched the Control Freak, the more frustrated he is? For him life is his way or the highway. Sound familiar? Sounds just like the original Control Freak to me. Don’t forget Satan had his choice just like everyone else and in the end he chose the highway. He’s been ranting and raving about it ever since. Trying to take control always leads to frustration. Confound it anyway!
What a blessing I have found frustration to be. For me it is a red flag. Every time I get frustrated it’s a sure fire signal that I’m attempting again to take control. Usually a cursory look around will reveal who I’m trying to manipulate this time. The more sensitive I have become to this little signal, the less carnage I have caused.
Let me tell you how I made this most revealing discovery about myself. I had been in recovery from my addiction for about 18 months. All of a sudden one day, without any conscious thought, I found myself in the middle of full blown binge. I woke up with the realization like it was a bad dream, only it wasn’t. I couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d been broadsided by a truck while going through a green light at a remote intersection! I was devastated. I had gone so long without using and had, for the most part, been remarkably free of temptation as well. It had been so wonderful to be free!
I crawled back to the Lord, begged forgiveness, expressed my dismay and confusion and began working the 12 Steps again. When I got to step four I worked really hard at identifying what weakness had taken me back down. After weeks of soul searching and self examination I made a remarkable discovery. I had not fallen off the wagon on the day that I used again. I fell off three weeks earlier when I had reclaimed control of my life from the God I had given it to.
On that earlier day, a daughter had made a decision of serious and very negative and disappointing consequences. I immediately reacted with anger, frustration and disappointment. Not because of her, but because of how her decision was going to affect me and my reputation and my ego. I went right out and began decorating for the pity party I would eventually hold three weeks later.
I am mortified that I never once considered what she was going through, what pain had caused her rash decision, what anguish might be racking her soul. No, I was too caught up in her defiance of my wishes, and how it was all going to affect me. I had not realized it then, but had spent the entire three weeks, decorating, arranging caterers, venues and entertainment for the pity party that somehow turned out to be a surprise party for the planner.
Nobody in recovery likes a relapse. But everyone who relapses and learns from it will express appreciation for the lessons learned. So it is with me. I learned loud, clear and indelibly that frustration is the first sign of coming destruction and that the only way to stop the train is to stop, turn around, face the Lord and relinquish the control I was trying to usurp. Relinquish it to Him, no one else, just He who can be fully entrusted with it.
Once I sobered up and surrendered my will to the Lord, again; I realized that I had not even considered my daughter or her pain. The manifest frustration followed by manipulative intervention and then the subsequent neglect had further alienated her. She was difficult to reach. She had closed the shutters and barred the doors to her heart for fear of further hurt, this time at my hands. I had to stop being in control. I had to stop manipulating. I began by outlining my error and begging for forgiveness for my selfishness. My willingness to be candid and vulnerable resulted in a tongue lashing, a release of a lot of pent up anger and pain. I took it. I deserved it.
Next I asked, like Dr. Lund, “What on earth has hurt you so badly that you would choose to act this way? When she told me, my heart burst with sorrow and compassion. She had indeed been terribly hurt by mean and manipulative friends whose only purpose was to satisfy personal egos and curiosity. Add to that the hurt caused by a self-centered and uncaring father and you have a formula for disaster. I plead for forgiveness for not being there for her in her time of need. Not only had her friends rejected her, but her father had abandoned her.
It has taken us a long long time to treat and heal those deep infected wounds.
What a priceless lesson. What a horrible cost.
This chapter is about life without manipulation and fear. I confessed this most shameful story to teach one point. Let frustration be your red flag. Pray that Father will make you sensitive and aware of it at its first emergence. There is only one explanation for frustration – manipulation. That little red flag should have a message printed in bold letters across the crimson, “You are a Selfish Manipulator – Quit it!” At least that’s what mine says.
Do you suppose the folks who mourned the loss of a brick on the Tower of Babel were frustrated? Do you suppose when the ovens of Auschwitz couldn’t keep up with the trains, Hitler got frustrated? Do you suppose that when my wife expressed no desire to go on a mission, I got frustrated? What about when the living room floor is covered with Legos? Do you get frustrated? Why? Are you thinking about them? Or are you thinking about you?
I took the Scouts to Summer Camp one year. To motivate them a acquired pretty wonderful prizes they might win. Each time I caught a Scout doing something good or well I would give him a colorful polished stone. I put the prizes on display and told them that the one with the most stones at the end of the week would get his choice of the prizes. There were knives, binoculars, compasses, stuff like that. They were motivated. I thought I was encouraging them, motivating them. At the end of the week a conflict arose between two groups of the boys. Tempers flared and when the time came for the counting of stones and the awarding of prizes, no one wanted to participate. Their anger was still seething. One boy had even run off into the dark woods to be away and alone. Of course I had to go after him. I stumbled around the forest for a half hour realizing that I’d only find him if he wanted to be found. I sat down on a log frustrated. All my plans, hopes, dreams for this activity were heading down the drain. I was frustrated. After some contemplative time, I decided to pray. First I prayed for the young man, that he wouldn’t be lost and would respond to my calls. Then I prayed for my plan that it would come to fruition. Then I sat a while and listened. What I heard, in my heart, surprised me. There in the woods, I learned that my motivation for the stones and prizes had been a selfish one. I wanted cooperation. I wanted success and the resulting praise. I wanted to be the coolest Scoutmaster on the mountain.
Somehow, through all the selfishness the Lord reached me and informed me that He had a better plan and that from what appeared to me to be disaster, He was going to create a masterpiece. I felt impressed to go to the picnic table in camp and just sit there. I did. Eventually, someone approached and asked if I weren’t going to bed.
“No,” I said.
“Why not? It’s late,” the scout informed me.
“It is,” I said, “But I have a job to do and I’m going to stay here until it is done.”
The boy left. I could hear murmuring in the tents. Eventually, the two groups wandered reluctantly to the table and joined me in silence. Two boys were still missing. We waited. Finally, out of the darkness they emerged and joined. Sullen looks remained on most of the faces.
I still had a bunch of stones left in a box. I informed the boys that I had gone about the program all wrong and that I wanted their stones back. They handed them in without complaint. I handed the box to the eldest boy, the one who’d left camp. The one who’d bossed everyone around all week. The one who’d precipitated the rebellion. I asked him to distribute the stones as he saw fit. He declined. I passed them to the next boy and he accepted the assignment. I told him that there was only one stipulation. He couldn’t give a stone without a positive and bonafide reason, which he must express to the group. He took off without flinching and gave stones to every boy in the group. Then to my surprise that young man offered the same opportunity to the next boy. Pretty soon they’d complimented one another around the circle giving love and support freely to one another. Before long, tears began to be shed. The Spirit was felt in abundance. One of the interesting things was that toward the end of the process, boys began to bear their testimonies to one another of the feelings this little exercise was causing in their hearts. To my surprise, the eldest and to some degree, most obnoxious, wound up with far and away the most stones. This little phenomenon changed the way he felt about his peers for years to come.
I shudder to think that I might have, in my selfish frustration, forced the situation and destroyed any chance that this little miracle could have taken place. While I was certainly selfish in my desires, I think it is wonderful that my shiny stones didn’t do the trick until the Lord stretched forth His finger and made them glow in the hearts of some of his worthy sons. This can only be done if we will acknowledge our own weakness, anticipate the Lord’s divine assistance and then get out of the way. We can only do that if we are thinking of others and not of ourselves. My original method was one of manipulation. God’s method was one of freedom, responsibility, love and selflessness. What a difference can be found in the result.