There are times in our lives when we are forced to accept reality, and there are occasions when we gladly accept an offer or situation. Acceptance is the active embracing of subjective experience, particularly distressing occurrences. The idea is not merely to grudgingly tolerate negative encounters but to embrace them wholeheartedly and without defense.

We are told that there is a movement in positive psychology, more accurately, toward radical acceptance, focusing on gratitude, and resonating with the positive. And with good reason: It works. People are improving their quality of life as a result of these techniques. It begins with acceptance, which probably isn’t what you think.

History teaches us that acceptance has been a key to happiness since Buddhism was born. The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism (of The Four Noble Truths) is that “desire” is the root of all suffering. This is interpreted as wanting reality to be anything but what it is; in other words, a lack of acceptance.

Acceptance has also been a cornerstone of the 12 Step treatment for alcoholism since the first “Alcoholics Anonymous” book was written in 1939. Doctor Paul Ohliger wrote a passage on how acceptance leads to being happier and sober. An alcoholic was in a social worker’s office, where she told him her story of desperately struggling with alcohol. He says, “No one had ever done this before. I had been preached to, analyzed, cursed, and counseled, but no one had ever said, “I identify with what’s going on with you.” In other words, he was finally accepted for who he was, not what people thought or wanted him to be.[1]

German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned a prayer, also used by Alcoholics Anonymous, called 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.”

Psychologist Denise Fournier tells us that a big part of healing and recovering from the painful parts of life is accepting what’s taken place. In order to move on, we must first acknowledge what’s happening now. But, as all of us know, this is much easier said than done. Despite being one of the most important tasks in life any of us can master, the practice of acceptance is enduringly difficult.

At the same time, not readily accepting opportunities, occasions, or openings for our benefit, will leave us with the constant misery and regret, “Why didn’t I go ahead and accept that when I could have had it?” All of us have stories like that. But regret and remorse do not change the facts. Why was it so hard to make a decision? What stood in our way of getting the things we needed that would usher us into a new phase of living and enjoying life?

Steve Taylor is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK tells us about his struggle with tinnitus and how he managed to adjust to living with it. He says, “To me, this experience illustrates the amazing power of acceptance. An attitude of acceptance can neutralize unpleasant and irritating experiences – and even sometimes transform them into pleasant ones. I realized that the tinnitus was affecting me so negatively because I was resisting it. As soon as I stopped resisting, it stopped affecting me.”

For proof that rejection, exclusion, and acceptance are central to our lives, look no farther than the living room, says Nathan Dewall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. “If you turn on the television set and watch any reality TV program, most of them are about rejection and acceptance,” he says. The reason, DeWall says, is that acceptance – in romantic relationships, from friends, even from strangers – is absolutely fundamental to humans.

The Bible uses the term “acceptance” only once, and that involves God’s acceptance of the sacrifices brought to Him. But it does speak about whether or not we should “accept” certain things and people in our lives. There’s the story of Jacob, who was about to reunite with his older brother, Esau, from who he stole the birthright. So, he sends presents on ahead with the hope that “When I meet him face-to-face, he will accept me.”[2] And when Job argues with his friends about what he should or should not do, he asked them, “When are you going to accept what God says? Will you take God’s place and argue for Him?”[3]

The Psalmist asked, how long will you keep making bad decisions by accepting ungodly people in your life?”[4] And King Solomon repeated this same thought and added that such people can turn against those who want to do what’s right.[5]

However, Jesus laid it out plainly by telling us, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”[6] In other words, accept others the way they are, not what you think they ought to be. Once you get them to see who they really are, it will motivate them to accept the necessary changes. That’s why, said Jesus, “All whom My Father has given to Me will come to Me. I will accept whoever comes to Me.”[7] That’s why Paul told the Romans, “Accept each other as the Anointed One accepted you. This will honor God.”[8]

So, as we can see, acceptance does not mean shut up and be quiet and take whatever comes your way. No, it implies that we are not to try and change someone or something before will accept it. Only after acceptance can you then begin to influence change for the better. Like the story of the alcoholic we mentioned above, it was only after he found someone who was willing to accept him for what he was, a hopeless soul addicted to alcohol, that he then became open to changing what he did not like, not what they did not like.

That’s what happened to us when we lost, and lousy sinners came to God for forgiveness. The Apostle Paul declares that God showed His love to us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.[9] It was only after He accepted us that we were ready to have Him help us change the things we didn’t like and were ashamed of. In a way, that’s what sanctification is all about. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Alcoholics Anonymous (1939), 4th Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New York City, 2001, p. 449

[2] Genesis 32:30

[3] Job 13:8

[4] Psalm 82:2

[5] Proverbs 18:5

[6] Matthew 7:1-5; Cf. Romans 2:3; Job 19:5

[7] John 6:37

[8] Romans 15:7

[9] Romans 5:8

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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