“Happiness can only exist in acceptance.” – George Orwell
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” – Eckhart Tolle
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….” – Reinhold Niebuhr
Life can be filled with harsh realities. The most painful ones are generally those we didn’t see coming or leave us absent of any power to change or rectify them.
Failing health, relationships that cannot be mended, sudden accidents or any kind of intense loss can bring us quickly to a place where we realize just how limited and powerless we really are.
At first, we tend to deny the reality of the situation. We don’t want to believe that the illness has no cure or the dream can no longer be realized. We don’t want to think about what it will be like to go on living without someone or how we will ever be able to embrace the handicap or disability.
Our denials move abruptly toward feelings of anger. Why is this happening to me and not someone else? Why can’t I have the life I always dreamed of having? How could someone be so cold and heartless to do such a hurtful thing to someone? God, if you are so powerful and loving, why did you allow this to unfold like it is?
Once the anger subsides, we turn it on ourselves in the form of guilt. If we had only ate right and lived a healthier lifestyle, maybe the cancer wouldn’t have developed in the first place. Maybe if I could have been a better partner or spouse, a better person, this devastating divorce would have never happened. If only I had been there watching out for them, I could have stopped the suicide or accident from occurring.
Guilt turns into depression – a sadness and type of regret that is deep and overwhelming at times. We contemplate our vulnerability, our defenselessness, and the frailness of our humanity. We lament over how many things in life are outside of our control to change or undo. The depression can become such a part of us that it begins to define our life moving forward. If we’re not careful, we can remain here for a long time – in a destructive state of misery and unhappiness – negatively affecting the life we have remaining and the loved ones who surround us.
By God’s grace and by His imparted wisdom, we eventually come to a place of acceptance. In the Serenity Prayer I quoted above, Reinhold Niebuhr asks God for the poise and equanimity to embrace acceptance – to simply release and relinquish the aspects of our lives that are beyond our ability to change.
When you think about it, this simple action is the spark that ignites our ability to take control over our life again. Acceptance is a choice, an attitude, a mental posture that empowers us to move forward. Once we accept what we cannot change, we begin once again to connect to those things we can control, the things we can influence – the positive changes we can instigate within our circumstances.
But coming to a place of acceptance may seem too problematic – as if we are giving up or giving in to our situation. Acceptance can feel like we are throwing in the towel too soon or apathetically taking the easy way out. Acceptance can be seen as weak-minded. We are taught that when one surrenders one loses.
But I can tell you from experience that when we resist, when we fight for the way we want things to turn out, when we cling to the injustice of our circumstances, this is where things begin to become problematic and unravel. Resistance breeds more unrest and fuels the flames of depression. It holds our lives captive and makes us incapable of letting go and moving on to a better place.
Acceptance is far from weak-minded and apathetic. It’s a tough, hard choice, but one that leads to peace and tranquility in the long run.
Are you coming to a place of acceptance within your circumstances or taking a stand to resist what is happening? Are you in denial – angry, feeling guilty or depressed?
Together, let’s pray like Reinhold Niebuhr, asking God to help us let go of what we cannot control and to arrive at a place of acceptance – trusting in Him every step of the way.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” – Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV