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The Spiritual Tool of Acceptance

May 3, 2021 by Beth A. Richardson

During this past year of fear and uncertainty, many of us have struggled to stay grounded. We long for spiritual practices that will help us hold onto the truth of God’s loving presence in the midst of a sometimes painful reality. Even now, as many of us are, with the help of the vaccine, beginning to re-emerge into spaces with other people, there are days when we are swept away into insecurity. The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was a small ray of hope for change. And, then there were the deaths of Ma’Khia Bryant, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Andrew Brown, Jr. (How many more names will join this list before you read this article?) Will the litany of names cause us to turn inward in despair? Will the headlines about COVID-19 statistics cause us to become numb?

As we search for spiritual practices that help us find life in these difficult times, we turn to the practice of acceptance.

acceptance (noun)

   1. The quality or state of being accepted or acceptable.

   2. The act of accepting something or someone.


Being Accepted

This first definition of acceptance (“the quality of being accepted”) invites us to remember our belovedness. God does not just accept us. God adores each of us, no matter who we are or what we have done.

As we face the fears and uncertainties of the ongoing pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, we struggle to stay grounded. And, then, the Holy One whispers to us, “You are my beloved. You are not alone. I loved you before you were even imagined. No matter what you are facing, I will stand beside you. Even if you don’t feel me, I am there with you.”

Reflect: How are you at accepting your belovedness from the Holy One? Make an intention to listen for and accept that belovedness today.

This definition of acceptance also invites us to remember the belovedness of those around us. All of us, everywhere, were created by the Holy One and called “Beloved.” We are called to accept one another – the strangers and enemies as well as our friends and loved ones.

Reflect: What is it like to think about the belovedness of someone with whom you are angry? Of someone very different from you? Of someone you see as an enemy? Make an intention to try to see and accept the belovedness of other people today.

The Act of Accepting

This second definition of acceptance (“the act of accepting something or someone”) can sound like passivity, like giving up. You may think of acceptance as the last option you have when you’ve tried everything else. But this kind of acceptance, fueled by deep attentiveness and discernment, calls us to take action.

Accepting God’s Call

We often see this acceptance in those who say yes to God’s call. Queen Esther models such acceptance as she comes forward to save the lives of the Jewish people in her husband’s kingdom. “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NRSV).

Mary, the mother of Jesus welcomed God’s calling on her life. Her acceptance came forth in her song, The Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (see Luke 1:46-55, NRSV).

Reflect: How have you accepted God’s call in your life? Is God inviting you to say yes to a calling today?

Discerning the Way Forward

Our siblings in 12-Step Spirituality teach us the practice of acceptance as a way to find peace in the midst of the challenges we face. They pray The Serenity Prayer: “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When we are in a difficult place, we can pray through these steps to find serenity in our situation. Is there any action we can take to make a difference in this situation? If so, we need courage to take that action. If there’s nothing we can do to change this situation, we need help to accept things the way that they are. And we pray for the wisdom to discern whether we are called to action or to acceptance.

Jesus modeled this sort of radical acceptance in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion. “My Father,” Jesus prayed, “If it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39, CEB).

Reflect: What is troubling you today? Pray The Serenity Prayer with regard to this situation. Are you needing action or acceptance?

Esther, Mary, Jesus... they all found themselves in a world turned upside down, faced with a decision to deny their place in God's story or to accept it along with the strength God would provide. Let us draw strength from these ancestors of our faith, looking clear-eyed at the crisis before us and accepting our call to remain attentive, and discern together as the beloved of God.

Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her latest release from Upper Room Books is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

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