Our Lenten book group is reading The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Fortunately, St. John’s is filled with insightful bookworms who love this sort of stuff and who together generate some wonderful discussions! I happily go along for the ride!
The whole book inspires me, but one chapter in particular I wish to lift up today. It is entitled, “Acceptance: the Only Place Where Change Can Begin.” What they mean by this is “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty. Acceptance, it must be pointed out, is the opposite of resignation and defeat.” It is acceptance that not everything is within our control.
The Dalai Lama gives an example: “Imagine that you are living next to a difficult neighbor. You can judge and criticize them. You can live in anxiety and despair that you will never have a good relationship with them. You can deny the problem or pretend that you do not have a difficult relationship with your neighbor. None of these is very helpful.
“Instead, you can accept that your relationship with your neighbor is difficult and that you would like to improve it. You may or may not succeed, but all you can do it try. You cannot control your neighbor, but you do have some control over your thoughts and feelings. Instead of anger, instead of hatred, instead of fear, you can cultivate compassion for them, you can cultivate kindness toward them, you can cultivate warmheartedness toward them. This is the only chance to improve the relationship. In time, maybe they will become less difficult. Maybe not. This you cannot control, but you will have your peace of mind. You will be able to be joyful and happy whether your neighbor becomes less difficult or not.”
In other words, “acceptance” does not mean we do not try to improve a situation, but that we do not let our peace and happiness depend on the outcome. It is when we get upset and anxious that the outcome isn’t what WE want it to be, when it gets outside our little vision, that unhappiness occurs. It is an acceptance that not everything is within our control. Do what you can, with compassion, and let go the rest.
“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me'” [Mark 9:38-39]. John is upset that someone is doing things in Jesus’ name outside of their control, but Jesus rightly recognizes that the disciples cannot control what everyone does. That, in fact, perhaps an even larger and better result will be revealed by releasing control and upset and accepting what is.
This is a helpful concept for me to remember as I so often wish to mold my reality to certain desired outcomes. My poor husband and children are the likeliest beneficiaries of my ministrations! I must be better with acceptance. Perhaps it is our spouses and children who most clearly teach us this lesson.
You are very dear to me and to God in Christ.