I believe it is probably a universal condition of humanity to try to avoid pain.
We all make valiant efforts to evade, elude, and escape suffering. Because who among us welcomes sorrow? What kind of person celebrates grief? Do we know anyone who exclaims, “Hooray! Divorce papers!”? Who rejoices over the betrayal of a spouse or a trusted friend? Certainly no one I know. Yet there is an inescapable fact of life. Sooner or later, we will all have to face the unimaginable. Be it a diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or, as in our case, the sexual abuse of one of our children, and then living in the catastrophic wake of his rebellion toward us and God, none of us can avoid walking the dark road of heartache. It awaits all of us and will eventually come knocking at our door. The question isn’t whether or not we will have trials. In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us,
“In this world you will have tribulation..”
This sounds pretty much like a guarantee. But it’s how we manage difficult circumstances that is key. There are right ways and wrong ways to approach dealing with situations we don’t want to face. Wrong ways can include denial, worry, being anxious, being angry, or just shutting down and shutting out the world, choosing to wallow in our grief and self-pity. While I can understand these responses, (and have been there for a season!), we can’t be so overcome by our emotions that we allow them to take root and destroy us. We are to be a testimony of Christ’s ability to heal even the most broken of hearts. We are doing no good for His glory if we are submerged in defeatism. I gave you part of John 16:33 in which Jesus tells us to expect tribulation, but I didn’t give you the good news of the entire verse.
“These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus wants us to have peace in our trials.
How in the world are we supposed to have peace when the rug is pulled out from under us?
I believe I have the answer:
We can cry, scream, wail, and pound our fists (All of which I have done). We may even need to do those things to a degree. David shows us an example of a man crying out to the Lord in despondent anguish. In Psalm 13:1-3 David languishes, crying:
“1How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? 3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.”
This is some pretty extreme pity partying. But who of us cannot relate? I’m sure many of us have thought that it would be easier to just close our eyes and not wake up rather than face the devastations thrust upon us.
We are no doubt all familiar with the five stages of grief:
I believe I have come to the acceptance part of my journey, but not without having experienced the other four to at least some degree. Here’s kind of what that looked like for me:
“God, this can’t be true.” –Denial
“God, I hate this man that took my son’s innocence and damaged his heart!! And I hate how we are being treated.” – Anger
“God, if only I could go back in time and change things.” – Bargaining
(*although I never tried to “make a deal” with God)
“God, I can’t go on living in this pain. I just want to be left alone in my grief.” – Depression
“God, I know you chose for me to walk this road. For whatever reason it is, I know you have purpose in it.” – Acceptance
I can’t say that none of the first four mindsets never creep back into my thoughts periodically. That wouldn’t be honest. Sometimes I still get angry, or depressed, or wish I could go back and change things. But I don’t dwell there.
I dwell in the acceptance.
If I trust God, I must trust in His sovereignty in all things. Even the painful things. Even the things that are impossible to understand. If His word is truth, I can do nothing other that believe Him.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
“I can do (endure) all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7
If we are in the midst of a storm, it’s because, in His sovereignty, God has allowed the tempest. In a fallen world full of sin, we will all feel its dreadful ripple effects. When we have to bear the pain of the death of a loved one, we are still experiencing the ripple effects of Eve’s sin in the garden millennia ago. So, whether we are drenched by the initial splash of the rock hitting the water, where the impact is felt the harshest, or if we are on the outer ripples at the edge of the pond, the effects of sin are still felt and have an impact.
Because of the influence of sin on the world, it is required of us to converge with it. No one is immune.
So, what does acceptance look like in the life of a Believer? And what does acceptance mean? What does it NOT mean?
I have seen two examples in the past week of friends who have shown what it means to dwell in acceptance in the midst of circumstances they could never have imagined having to face.
First, from my friend Kimberly:
And second, from my friend Jennifer:
Oh to have faith like this!
The statement that jumped out at me in Jennifer’s post was: “In acceptance lies peace.”
There can only be peace in acceptance. If we don’t find our way to peace, we are doomed to a mind plagued with turmoil and torture. And in so living, we will be utterly ineffective for Christ. We can’t glorify God from a fetal position in a bed with the covers pulled over us. God doesn’t get glory in our anger or our misery and self-pity. As those who follow Christ, we are to exhibit His grace and mercy in our lives. Others should be able to see how He is working in us. And if an unbeliever were to ask, “How are you able to get through this?”, ultimately, we will be given a chance to share Christ with them and speak of the hope we have that isn’t in this world or what it offers.
I want to be clear about something. Acceptance doesn’t mean not seeking justice for a crime. We can accept a circumstance we find ourselves in, while not just allowing a criminal to go free, or not have to face the consequences for the crime he perpetrated on us.
Acceptance also doesn’t mean that a sin against us cannot be reconciled.
God WANTS broken relationships to be healed. He gets glory in the restoration of a broken marriage. He wants parents and children to live in relationships that thrive in peace and wholeness. After all, our very salvation is the story of our being reconciled to Christ because of our sin against Him. So, if there is repentance and a desire for repairing what is broken, accept it. Don’t withhold forgiveness from someone who is seeking it. We have no right to deny forgiveness if it is being asked of us. Christ forgave those who put Him on a cross. We can do no less.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Dwelling in acceptance means finding peace and comfort by abiding in Christ, and in knowing that He has a purpose in our pain, just as there was a purpose in His pain. He understands betrayal, death, grief, suffering, and living in a world racked with sin and its repercussions.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:3
Though Jesus sweat drops of blood knowing what He faced, He dwelt in the acceptance of it. Ultimately, He submitted to His Father’s will.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42
We too must submit to the Father’s will and not fight against Him by blaming Him or being held hostage by our emotions. It is a daily choice to surrender to His sovereign plan, and some days are better than others. I would have never chosen to travel this road, but for whatever reason, He has chosen it for me. He has also chosen the road you are travelling, be it sweet at the moment, or be it bitter. I am actually learning to enjoy the sweet along with accepting the bitter. I pray that when faced with a deep sorrow, after you cry and pour out your heart’s anguish, you can also be at peace and dwell in acceptance. He hears you. He sees you. He will be with you. He’s working something in us that only He knows. But I know that it’s good.
We don’t know yet how our story will end. We are still in the unknown. But we are in acceptance of the circumstance. And we will give Him praise even if our family is never whole on this side of heaven. Even if we never understand the “why“. We aren’t promised to have all the answers. That’s why it’s called trust. And I WILL trust Him. Because He has overcome the world, we can have hope.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ~Romans 5:1-5