By Justin O’Dell
Justin O’Dell is the Middle School Minister at Forum Christian Church in Columbia, MO. People think he’s crazy for working with 6th through 8th grade students…but he knows the truth – that they’re awesome! He grew up in small-town Missouri, and God has taken his family all across the country serving the Church through Student Ministry. His favorite things to do are spending time with his wife and two sons, going fishing and attending St. Louis Cardinals games.
I can remember when I was a kid in the early 2000s sneaking out of my room late at night to watch one of my favorite shows on Nick At Night called “George Lopez” starring, you guessed it, George Lopez. If you haven’t watched it before, it’s a fun show about George Lopez, a manufacturing plant manager, and his family as they navigate the trials of life in a comical way—at least to my 10-year-old self.
George had a punchline every episode when he would find himself in a sticky situation. He would pound his chest and exclaim, “I got this!” It got me every time! Inevitably, though, he would have to admit, “I don’t got this…” and ask for help from his family and friends.
As I’ve grown older, I realize how shows and media can truly be a microcosm of our culture and even shape individuals and culture. While I didn’t grow up to be a manufacturing plant manager with a wife, daughter and son and my mother-in-law living with me—at least not yet anyway—looking back I can see how staying up past my bedtime watching George Lopez say every night, “I got this!” shaped my thinking. From the time I was a kid all the way into adulthood, I believed I did “got” this. That I was capable. That I was in control.
A large part of my story contains chasing control through self-actualization and individual success. Control of my own decisions through gaining knowledge. Control of my finances through working hard and saving. Control of my health and image through playing sports. Control of my path in life through racking up accolades and leadership positions. I believed self-promotion and doing what I wanted to do was the path to a better, happier life. I chased success because I thought, “If I just have enough knowledge, money, ability and position, there’s nothing I won’t be able to accomplish.” I wanted to say like George in any situation, “I got this!”
And I got there. I had the best grades, most awards, more than enough money, the friends, and the status. I had the control. I didn’t need anyone, not even God. Then everything changed.
I was on a mission trip, really just to make others think I’m a good person, when God put me in a situation where I had no control of whether I lived or died. It was the final day of the trip, and we were headed to the airport to fly back to America. We were stopped in a village just outside the city where the airport was located because, as we soon found out, the village had started a riot and blocked our only road into the city. They weren’t going to let us drive through, but they would let us walk. In a series of unforeseen events, we found ourselves cornered. Machetes swinging at us, rocks thrown at us, guns drawn on us. In that moment, we were readying ourselves to die. We had no control, no say in living or dying.
Then God showed up.
In an instant the leader of the riot didn’t seem himself—pure hatred pouring out, spitting as he yelled to wile up the mob. He became calm and let us go for no reason. As we made our way out, flagged down a vehicle large enough to carry us, and got to the airport, it still didn’t make sense. What just happened? How are we even alive?
Then I got my answer. As I sat down in my seat on the plane, I heard a gentle whisper in my head, “Who is in control?” At that moment, it was like God pulled back the curtain to reveal the darkness inside me. My pursuit of control had led me not to fulfillment, but to dark, lonely emptiness.
That was the moment I realized the best thing anyone can ever say is, “I don’t got this…” Because at that moment, Jesus comes in and offers rest (Matthew 11:28-30). A peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). A new identity marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He offers to take control, which is the only path to true fulfillment.
My challenge to you is simple. Admit to yourself and to your community, “I don’t got this.” Coming out of the season of 2020-2021, where no one was in control of their lives or what happened to them, be wary of the temptation to seize control again of your schedules and time. In a season where all beliefs are questioned through deconstruction, set your feet on the only solid ground: Jesus as King. And in a season where uncertainty is all we can see, be certain of this: God’s got this.