“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”
I would like to speak on acceptance this week. There are many definitions, and many contexts in which we use the word ‘accept.’ In this Bible verse, acceptance means granting a person access to our heart. As a believer in Christ, to accept someone whose faith is weak means that we consider that person’s faith condition and treat him carefully with our heart, making sure that we do not hinder his faith or weaken it more.
Although similar, acceptance and non-attachment are different. To review, non-attachment, is a state of mind where we are not attached to any particular outcome or result. It is a way of being in the world without being attached to it. The virtue of acceptance is the ability to acknowledge and embrace what is happening in the present moment without judgment or resistance. It is about being open to what is, rather than wishing for something different.
Acceptance is not always easy, especially when bad things are happening. How do we accept these horrific things? First of all, acceptance does not mean approval. The wars and conflicts in our country and around the world concern us all. Through acceptance, we acknowledge that we fervently hope for resolution to the conflicts, and we also recognize that we do not have control over the outcome. We may not approve of what is going on, but we still pray for peace, and we still care.
Through acceptance, we realize that our highest spiritual position is not to specify our desired outcome in any given situation. From a God-perspective, we can see that we are still learning, growing, and transforming as individuals and a species through God’s love, God’s working through us. So, rather than ranting, objecting, and blaming God for allowing this conflict to happen, in acceptance, we say, “Thy will be done.”
For in truth, do we know why these things are happening, why bad things happen? Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” It is an error to presume why things are happening the way they are and to affix our feeble reasons to the situation. Acceptance asks that we acknowledge that it is happening, and not deny it or judge it.
As rational and moral human beings some behaviors are not acceptable. If we agree to live by the social contract that we call the Constitution, some things are unacceptable. That is one context, a worldly context, through which the meaning of the word acceptance enters our minds. But there is also a spiritual context.
People are going to differ; there will be disagreements, arguments, even wars. This is because we are still growing and changing. We can complain and disapprove of it, but in the end we either accept it or we live in a constant state of anxiety. How can people do such things, think such things? It is because, like us, they are still in the process of becoming. God is working through them based upon where they are spiritually, what they know, how entrenched they are in the world. Romans 12:3 tells us, “… I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers.”
In other words, we have each been given a parcel of faith, judgment, and mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual capacity. We are not the same, do not have the same abilities or aptitudes. We are told to accept those whose faith is weak, and this applies to all of the other conditions – their mental and physical abilities. We are to accept them – let them into our hearts. This is part of the commandment ‘to love each other.’
Every person walks their own path, takes their own journey, and learns the lessons unique to them. We can support them, love them, and watch them, but we cannot live their life and control their circumstances. We are to know that God has good plans for each of His children. We are to accept each other as we make our journey, trusting that God is guiding each of us to where He wants us to be and to become whom He wants us to be, and not as we wish everyone would be. We do not have to approve of anyone else – their attitudes, philosophies, looks, or choices. But they are part of our spiritual family, and we are expected to love them, accept them, and honor them by allowing them to be themselves.
Do we have to hang out with them? No. Have lunch with them? No. Accepting them is not agreeing with their way of life. Acceptance is not conditional: We do not demand that someone meet our standards before we accept them. We do not impose our moral code or any other criterion upon them. We accept them, do not judge them, or wish they were something else.
This is difficult for most people. It is not easy following Christ. We are asked to accept them all, and love them all, even if from a distance. Even the evilest people. We accept them as children of God but acknowledge that today they are making harmful choices. We don’t have to approve of their behavior, and we can live our life accordingly. 1 Corinthians 5:11 tells us, “… not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.” There you go, it is Biblical, we don’t have to have lunch with them, but we still have to love them.
Ironically, when we can accept someone, we exert more influence on their behavior – not because of criticism, but because of a foundation of acceptance to build on. By accepting someone, we empower them to change themselves and open their hearts to God’s transformative love. What a powerful gift to give.
And although we dream of a perfect world and improving circumstances to demand them or expect them to instantaneously appear will likely result in resentment, frustration, and disappointment. This is where the virtue of acceptance brings light to a situation. Again, acceptance does not connote approval. It usually means that there is something in the situation that is less than appealing, less than ideal. Yet, for important reasons, such as the value of a relationship, or situation, we tolerate or assent to imperfections. We accept something despite the limitations.
Acceptance is the capacity to work with what is. It is the resourcefulness to discover gifts in the present, and imperfect moment, and use them lovingly and skillfully. It is the ability to rejoice and delight in the quirkiness and inconsistencies of the people we know and love. Acceptance helps us realize that many of our struggles are strongly related to our strengths.
Competent and organized people are often anxious and controlling. Artistic people are often moody and preoccupied. Intellectual people can be overly analytical and critical, and kind people can make too many compromises. But acceptance holds to the notion that we are all mixed bags of our strengths and struggles.
Just as God accepts where we are at this moment that burden lies upon us as well. Self-acceptance is vital to our usefulness to Spirit. Accepting what is, right here and now, is important, just as it is important to know that we aren’t done yet. If we don’t develop the courage to live in the here and now, we will find it hard to wait patiently for God’s good and perfect plans yet to be revealed to us. If we can’t find God’s good for us right now, what makes us think we will spot it in the next ‘now’?
Spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello wrote, “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.”
One key to developing acceptance is the idea that difficult emotions are an inescapable part of life. Christ told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Peace is possible, love is possible, joy is possible in Christ. When difficult emotions arise, we can either resist or accept. There is an axiom that I learned years ago: what we resist will persist.
Do we maintain a resistant attitude toward some people? Being aware of our resistance can help us be more accepting of ourselves and others. Are we gentle, or pushy and demanding? We can’t push people closer to us; we have to open our hearts and draw them to us. The same is true for self-acceptance. Can we be gentler toward ourselves? The next time we make a mistake, say to ourselves, “How fascinating. What could I have done differently?”
We can practice compassion toward ourselves and others. When interacting with someone, try to see them as whole beings. Permit them to mess things up; we have made our share of messes. Most people are just trying to do their best with what they have and what they know.
Recognizing and embracing our value and other peoples’ value is a step toward acceptance. Forgiveness is another step. Changing our negative self-talk and the torrent of negative thought toward others can dislodge the blocks to acceptance. This includes avoiding casting blame on others and ourselves and comparing ourselves to others. Negative, negative, negative. Why not admit that we are enough? God can use us just as we are right now.
When Jesus walked on earth, He was our perfect example of accepting others, no matter their harmful and unproductive behaviors or choices. Jesus extended grace and forgiveness to all, and we are commanded to do the same.
But being accepting of others and loving them as God does, doesn't mean that we allow them to become an influence in our lives. Acceptance means embracing reality. It is the willingness to experience things as they are, instead of insisting that they be as we want them to be. Acceptance is not agreement, acquiescence, approval, quitting, giving up, or resignation. We practice acceptance by taking our attention off the things we can’t control and placing it on those things we can control – our thoughts, our behaviors, our attitudes.
Looked at from this perspective, acceptance is the simplest and most direct way of dealing with the world. Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on and say, "Why were things of this sort ever brought into this world?"
Accept that it is, and move on without complaint, criticism, or resistance. When we accept that not everyone is going to agree with us, we make a huge step toward a peace-filled life. Dr. Gerald G. Jampolsky wrote, “You can be right or you can be happy.” Keanu Reeves said, “I'm at the stage in my life where I keep myself out of arguments. Even if you tell me 1+1=5. You're absolutely correct, enjoy.” That is acceptance.
Romans 15:7 instructs us to “… accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”