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The Spiritual Practice of Acceptance

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by Trevor Hudson

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. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.—The Serenity Prayer 

Whenever we find ourselves experiencing difficulties, we need to hold on to one bit of good news. Put very simply, it is this: God is deeply present in all the facets of our lives, even when they are painful. The Bible teaches that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). There is no fear, no loss, no grief, no loneliness, no despair, no addiction, no desolation, no suffering that God does not share in. God is continually present and reaching out to us in whatever we may be going through at this moment. When we know that God is with us, even when our world is falling apart, we are more able to face the pain of situations with hope and courage. ...

[Hardships] are ... where the suffering God draws close to us. God can only bless us where we actually are, especially when we are going through rough times. If we constantly try to escape our pain, we can easily miss the gifts that God wants to bless us with. Gifts like peace and serenity and growth. …

Small Steps toward Acceptance 

You may be wondering what this acceptance involves, especially in the light of the particular hardships life may have thrown at you. Does it mean having to accept them with passive resignation by throwing up our hands, doing nothing, and leaving everything to God? Or does it mean something very different? . . . Here are some small steps that may lead us into a deeper acceptance of our hardships as the pathway to peace:

  • We can take some time to look at the cross, where we can see what God’s love is really like. The mystery of the cross reminds us that God is no stranger to human pain. God not only understands our suffering but also shares it. We are never alone in our pain. This truth keeps the light of faith flickering in our broken hearts, renews hope in our grieving, and rekindles love in hearts that have been betrayed and broken.
  • We can affirm that God is present with us in our painful and trying situations. We can say to ourselves, “This situation is where God is wanting to meet and bless me.” This simple affirmation can help us to see every difficult situation as an opportunity for God’s goodness, love, and competence to become a reality in our experience. It can also open our hearts to receive God’s gifts of serenity and peace.
  • We can find another person to be our wailing wall, someone who can listen to our stories of struggle without trying to change or fix us. Few things prove more helpful in times of great difficulty than to have another human being come alongside of us and bear our pain with us. Such a friend becomes an open channel of God’s love and care.
  • We can choose to be gentle with ourselves. Often when we go through hard times, we can be very hard on ourselves. “If only I had done ________, this would not have happened.” “I must have done something wrong to have brought this awful thing about.” Refraining from these kinds of negative self-accusations can help us keep our sense of worth and dignity, even when circumstances go badly wrong.
  • We can ask God for the strength to take constructive action when we are tempted to give up. It could be something very simple, such as walking around the block, making ourselves a cup of tea, taking a walk in the garden, or phoning a good friend. A purely passive diversion like reading or watching television is usually not enough to rouse us from our darkness and depression. We need to act by summoning all our courage and doing something simple and creative. 

I have not found it easy to write this . . . because I am deeply aware that many of those reading these words are facing almost unbearable hardships. But I do know, from the witness of many courageous people around me, that we can experience God’s presence in moments of deep pain. When we do, we are able to take small steps toward acceptance. Each step is like a candle burning in the dark. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through and along the pathway of peace.

From The Serenity Prayer: A Simple Way to Enrich Your Life by Trevor Hudson. Copyright © 2012 by the author. Used with permission of Upper Room Books.

 

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An Anchor in the Storm

Joining friends at The Upper Room in morning prayer on Facebook Live has been an anchor in the storm during recent weeks. In the chaos of trying to figure out how to do ministry in strange and uncertain times, it was a compelling call to stop, breathe, listen, and be in community with those who gather "where the world meets to pray." Join us each day for morning prayer.