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It Takes a Light Touch: Neighborly Advice for My Fellow Control Freaks

It Takes a Light Touch: Neighborly Advice for My Fellow Control Freaks

A few years ago, my parents bought a new lawnmower.  It isn’t just any mower.  Oh, no.  This bad boy is a zero-turn, superspeed, grass-chomping terror mobile.

It has a seatbelt.

It needs a seatbelt.

It’s one of those mowers with the handles that move in opposing directions to steer it. My mechanically-inclined brother swears it’s very easy to steer.  I beg to differ.  You can’t convince me that those handles aren’t arbitrary doomsticks, producing random results with each push and pull.  It’s like a slot machine on wheels, only with sharp blades and tons of horsepower.

Side note: I am a pianist.  I’m quite used to my right and left hands doing different things at once, while my feet do something entirely different.  But this mower.  THIS MOWER.  I am telling you– it’s sentient. It scoffs at my ambidexterity.

While I was visiting my mom this week, I offered to mow her lawn. Now, when I say “lawn,” you should be picturing several acres, dotted by trees, flowers and other beautiful obstacles, just waiting to be crushed by 1,000 pounds of steel. It’s the penultimate Mario Kart track.  I’ve never driven this mower (let’s call it “Megatron”) for longer than a few terrifying seconds on my parents’ driveway. After considerable effort and a number of lucky guesses, Mom and I successfully get Megatron to start, and I buckle up and ease out of the garage, hand trembling on the throttle. Megatron bucks and roars and veers every way except the way in which I wish it to go.

I avoid approximately 4,000 trees on my way to the open field that Mom suggested as a good “starter patch.”

So far, so good.  I’m sweating a little, but I haven’t hit anything. Oh, wait…I just hit something.  Did Mom notice?  No?  Onward.

I make it to the field, feeling very much like Bambi stepping out into the meadow.

I make it one lap around the field.

Surveying my work, it looks like a badly failed field sobriety test. Another trickle of sweat drips down my back. Just as I start to ease the doomsticks back into some sort of forward motion, I see the neighbor approach the fence.  I gingerly climb off Megatron, careful never to turn my back on it or break eye contact with it as it roars at me and inches nearly imperceptibly down the hill. The neighbor looks at Megatron, then back at me, then at the bead of sweat running down my face.

“First time?”

“Is it that obvious?”

He gazes over my shoulder at my mowing progress, which looks a bit like the gameboard from “Chutes and Ladders” and then back at me.

I say, “I hope that if God lets people peek down from Heaven on loved ones, that Dad isn’t peeking at this mess right now. He was an expert on this thing.  Made it look so easy.”

The neighbor smiles at me and says, “You’ll be fine.  Here’s what you need to remember: You can’t white knuckle it– makes it even harder to control. Use a light touch. Secondly, when you’re in the straightaway, use that time to prepare for what’s next.”

Light touch. Prepare for what’s next. Got it.

Climbing aboard Megatron once more, I baaaaaarely touch the doomsticks in the direction I want to go, and miracle of miracles– it works.  As I breeze down the straightaway of the field, I think about the sharp turn ahead and mentally calculate what I need to do next.

I am ready for it. And I make it.

I mowed that whole field (only hit one pole just a little), another open area and the whole front yard with its smorgasbord of traps (hit a power line guidewire just a smidge. It’s fine. We’re all fine).  Megatron was placed back in the garage, appropriately humbled to have been broken by a mere mortal like me, and I went triumphantly into the house to pat myself on the back (Literally. Had to check myself for ticks).

I love a good analogy, so here it comes.

I’m a (slowly) recovering control freak. I white-knuckle my way through most things. And the more I latch on with my death grip, the more out of control things seem.

This isn’t all up to me. Life is a machine made up of many different parts– all working to make the whole thing go. It’s not all doomsticks and death grips. There are other mechanisms to help us steer.

When I pray, I let go a little.  When I read my Bible, I let go a little.  When I talk through my feelings with my family, I let go a little.  And it all feels more manageable when I do.

And that advice about using the straightaways to prepare for the curvy parts? That’s genius.

Our kids are entering new and unknown seasons of life in different ways.  I’m entering a challenging, but exciting season in my career.  Life is changing at breakneck speed.

Now is the time to prepare for what’s next.  The twists and turns that we can see, but also the ones we can’t yet.  Be present, but be prepared.  Life is anything but predictable, but we can still handle it with a light touch.  It takes practice and patience. I am not there yet, but I’m easing my way out of the garage, anyway.

Get out there and show your Megatrons who’s boss, friends.