There were two stories I encountered recently that got me thinking about a concept that has become foundational in my life. The first was a book by Stephen King titled Revival; the second was a story told in the early episodes of the new Netflix series Tales of the City. Let me tell you about the subject matter, and then talk for a moment about what those elements of the story raised for me.
In the book Revival, one of the primary characters was a pastor named Charles Jacobs. Charles had an interest in harnessing the powers of electricity to effect the healing of others. That interest grew into an obsession when a tragedy unexpectedly took the life of his wife and young son. From that point on, Charles was consumed with the thought of using electricity to heal folks of a variety of maladies.
In the series Tales of the City, the early episodes dealt with the fact that a young woman named Shawna Hawkins had never been told that her biological mother – Connie – had died in childbirth. Connie had arranged for Shawna to be raised by her close friends, Brian and Mary Ann. Brian and Mary Ann never revealed to Shawna that they were not her biological parents.
Here’s where things got tricky in each instance.
In the book Revival, the healings that Charles Jacobs effected often came with serious side effects: effects which he often didn’t disclose to the person being healed. This mean that while the initial “problem” went away, others arrived to take its place.
In the series Tales of the City, Brian and Mary Ann had split when Shawna was just 2. At the start of the series, Mary Ann re-emerged after a 20-year absence. Shawna was understandably furious at Mary Ann for having left her. Mary Ann was convinced that she needed to tell Shawna the truth about who her mother really was.
So what do these wildly divergent situations have to do with one another?
In both cases, the individuals at the heart of the story had the opportunity to step in and play God. The individuals could evaluate the status quo, decide if it was to their liking, and then do whatever they thought was necessary in order to get things back on track.
Those circumstances reminded me that it can be so easy in life to try to step in and control or manipulate circumstances so things turn out to OUR liking. And therein lies the problem. As human beings, our perceptions are so incredibly limited. We fail to acknowledge our limitations. So when we try to “fix” one problem, we often find ourselves in situations like Charles Jacobs found himself: having eliminated one problem but created a few more.
And like Mary Ann, we often find ourselves with access to more information than those around us have. In such circumstances, we might feel compelled to share ALL the information so the other person(s) can “get it” (meaning agree with our conclusion or accept our perspective). So often, our desire to inform others backfires and makes things even messier.
So how can we break this cycle?
This is where my friends in Alcoholics Anonymous have helped me immensely. We can break the cycle by working on something called acceptance. Here is a statement a friend shared with me recently from The Big Book (a manual of sorts used by those in AA).
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes” (Page 417).
We often think about acceptance when it comes to things that are palatable. We might think, for instance, that acceptance means embracing a child’s decision to major in English rather than Business in college. Or when a supervisor decides the office will take one approach to a project rather than another. Acceptance applies certainly applies in those circumstances.
Acceptance, however, extends far beyond those circumstances. Acceptance also means doing the unthinkable: accepting the unexpected death of a young loved one or accepting that a loved one has an addiction that you can’t fix.
I can say that one of the greatest spiritual lessons I’ve been called to work on is accepting things as they are. That’s because for years I – like so many people around me – equated acceptance with giving up. I desperately wanted to fix those things I considered to be broken: for only then, I thought, could I be happy.
It took me YEARS to realize that only when I accept things as they are is real transformation possible: both within myself and in the world. Acceptance became the key for me to achieve inner peace and happiness.
So what about you? What thoughts does this notion of acceptance raise for you?