We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses -- one foot is on the horse called “fate,” the other on the horse called “free will.” And the question you have to ask every day is -- which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort? -- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
If I could sum up the problems I’ve faced, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome, the lessons I’ve had to learn -- the basis of each would somehow fall into the category of “control.” So many times I have fretted and feared over the things out of my control and an equal number of times I have endured pain because I forgot that I could or should have a say in the matter.
My analytical brain has had such a strong desire to figure out the proper formula. Countless hours have been spent on assessing the magical calculations that would, once and for all, determine a proper balance between letting go and taking action.
The majority of my twenties were spent with a complete control mentality. I was in control of my life. I took action and made things happen. My dreams came true because I made them come true. I was disciplined. In fact, I was so disciplined I felt God-like -- powerful and unstoppable.
This world has some gut-wrenching ways of humbling you when you start to forget the big picture. So like the circus performer in Gilbert’s analogy, I could no longer stay balanced when one horse was too far ahead of the other. And I fell hard -- in front of an entire arena of people.
Unfortunately, when I climbed back up on the horses, I was timid and fearful. I no longer trusted the horse of “free will” and wanted to leave it all to “fate.” I prayed and meditated. I would dream build and thank God in advance for the amazing things I believed He would bring into my life. I would allow myself to be walked over and spoken to in ways that were disrespectful -- but I would never say anything or stand up for myself.
“Fate had brought me here,” I would think to myself. That would be my excuse for never taking action. Opportunities would come and go and “fate” was always the excuse as to why things did or did not happen.
There is an old story about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint -- please, please, please, give me the grace to win the lottery.” For months he goes to church with this same prayer. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the poor man, and says, “My son -- please, please, please, buy a ticket.”
I would cry in frustration because I had prayed for days, weeks and months. But just like the poor man in the story, I wanted to leave it all to fate rather than lean on any action or free will.
The ability to determine what is within my control and what isn’t seems like it should be a relatively simple exercise. Yet, somehow I find myself continually taking on the burden of fear or worry about something that I have no control over and wanting to leave to fate what I do have control over.
What I have learned is that there is no perfect equation. It is not always 50 percent fate and 50 percent free will. Every day there is a new set of circumstances that come into our lives. Some of it we can control, some of it we cannot.
I can decide what phone calls I will make, who I chose to spend my time with and what actions I will take at work. I cannot control what others will think about my actions, who chooses to stay in my life and who doesn’t and what life lessons will be presented to me in any given moment.
My job is to continue to get up on the horses and make sure I remain balanced on both.