On the great virtues to cultivate in life is acceptance. And while it is true that not everything ought to be accepted, it is often a virtue and a step toward serenity to understand that not everything can be changed, and that unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.
Acceptance, which is not the same as approval, is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, wherein we come to recognize a situation (often a negative or uncomfortable) for what it is, without attempting to change it, protest, or leave it. The word is derived from the Latin roots ac (to) + ceptus (take or receive). The concept is also close in meaning to ‘acquiescence’, which is derived from the Latin ‘acquiēscere‘ (to find rest in). 
Again, note that acceptance does not connote approval. In fact it usually connotes that there is something in the situation that is less than appealing, less than ideal. Yet, for wider reasons, such as the overall value of a relationship, or situation, we tolerate or assent to the imperfection.
While perfection and improvement are surely ideals for which to strive, inordinately demanding them in every situation or instantly is usually a recipe for resentment, frustration, disappointment, and even strife.
Last week on the blog we meditated on the value and virtue of stability, one of the four vows taken by the Benedictines. We do well to recall the following insights from the manual of a Benedictine community:
We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behavior, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving .
For it frequently happens that when one seeks that which is ideal, if there is any ordeal, they seek for a new deal. And the process tends to repeat and repeat, such that a person like this never attains true and deeper relations with real people in a real world, but is ever off seeking that which is unreal, which does not exist. In effect they miss real life, in search of fantasy.
In the Gospel from this past Sunday Jesus counsels:
Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. (Mk 6:10)
In other words, stay put, don’t looking for a better meal, better lodgings, better company. Work with what you’ve got rather than waste time constantly looking for a better deal.
Acceptance is the capacity, to work with what is, and thereby make modest improvements. 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, even the inconsistency of the people we know, and to realize that many of the struggles they have are strongly related to their strengths.
For, yes, competent and organized people are often anxious and controlling, artistic people are often moody, intellectual people are overly analytical, and kind people may make too many compromises. But acceptance rests in the insight that we are all mixed bags and that strength and struggles are often intertwined. Thus, search and destroy missions regarding negative traits are usually less effective than identifying the nearby gift and helping to refine and clarify it.
Acceptance also means working your own stuff. For while we often demand perfection or the ideal outside of ourselves, we easily forget how difficult we can be to live with. Too easily we fulfill the old saying: Faults in others I can see, but praise the Lord, there are none in me.
Beyond this we also go to the other end of the spectrum and unrealistically demand perfection of our selves. We can be our own worst critic. It’s all just a strange twist on pride wherein we implicitly presume to be above imperfection. The fact is we’re a mixed bag just like everyone else.
I can hear some of the objectors now: “Are you saying we should just settle for the mediocre?!” No, there is an important place and time in life to strive for improvement and increasing perfection. But along the way, accepting what is, right here and now, is a very important virtue. For if I cannot bear to live in what is now, I cannot ultimately inherit what could be better. If I will not stay put to improve and grow what is how can I reap what might be better? What can be better later, must be built on what is now. Acceptance helps me stay put and work with what is, rather than endlessly wait for something better to come, something which almost never comes.
A couple of sayings from the Desert Fathers (I know not who) :
To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, “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.”
(For acceptance and serenity are deeply interior gifts. And when I get better, other people get better too).
A disciple once said to the Master, “How can I be a great man like you?” “Why be a great man?” said the Master. “Being a man is a great enough achievement.”
(For it sometimes happens that, in seeking what is great, we neglect what is most real and essential, our very selves. Greatness is not so much achieved as it is received when we come to accept ourselves as we really are, from the hand of God. Simply becoming the man or woman God made us to be is great enough. To compare is to despair and no matter how tall your father is, you have to do your own growing).
Here is a silly video that illustrates a woman who simply cannot accept her family as it is, so she creates a virtual family instead.
11 Replies to “A Meditation on the Virtue of Acceptance”
You are such a wise person. Very deep and insightful. Good tips to live by, and all inspired from your very own humility.
Thank yoU for your service as a soldier n the army of the Lord.
Thank you for this, along with the article on stability. Much food for thought.
Thanks from an alcoholic in recovery.
Back to the top of being hard wired for believing in the existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with that and sees it as being connected to our desire for happiness:
“To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.”–St. Thomas Aquinas S.T. 1.2.1
Msgr. Pope, I am so blessed to read your blog articles throughout the week. I have saved many of them for my own spiritual edification and for my catechetical efforts as a Director of Faith Formation at a parish. Your article here on acceptance reminds me of two wonderful quotes that I have been reflecting upon the past few days. The first is actually a set of lyrics from the song “Hanging by a Moment” by the band Lifehouse. The second is an excerpt from a letter written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The lyrics from Lifehouse remind me especially of the connection between acceptance and living a cruciform life. I find the song title itself evocative of Galatians 2:20
“Forgetting all I’m lacking/Completely incomplete/I’ll take your invitation/You take all of me, now/I’m falling even more in love with you/Letting go of all I’ve held onto/I’m standing here until you make me move/I’m hanging by a moment here with you.”
“There are very few men who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely to His hands, and let themselves be formed by His Grace.” – Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Action reveals order. Order binds action. Love is active; love is working; love is fulfilling. God redeems us because we are fallen. In fact, He does not accept that we are fallen; He moves to perfect us still.
If a man takes an oath and says “I will”,
then he must.
Else, an oath is but dust.
If I see a hurt and pass by him ill,
then the loss of trust.
So, to heal the wound I must.
Acceptance is realization of what is,
but it does not bind me to consent.
Indeed, I accept that I am ill,
but it is so that I may then heal and live.
God grant us the courage to change the things we can. Amen.
A set of feelings comes. “Again, note that acceptance does not connote approval. In fact it usually connotes that there is something in the situation that is less than appealing, less than ideal.” Yes, a situation which is less than appealing could very well be less than ideal but, a shining example of the ideal could result in the observer heading toward an uncomfortable awareness of their lack of (or even token and insincere) effort to face a need to heal and/or grow. I’ve been there many times and lived a massively self destructive lifestyle until “accepting” the uncomfortable wake up calls, and examples, that were coming my way.
“…there is an important place and time in life to strive for improvement and increasing perfection.” If I desire to, or need to, head north on a clear night then I can travel toward the north star. I know that I can never reach that star; at least in our present state of technological development; but as long as I head toward it I’m going in the right direction.
The first thing which I mentioned seems to be about a very important part of acceptance. It is highly unlikely that I will truly know someone else’s motives. I recently read an illustrative story where a wife was concerned about her husband’s withdrawn moodiness. Had he lost interest in her? Had he found someone else? Was he having an affair?
She arranged for the two of them to go out for a romantic dinner and, during the dinner he was withdrawn and moody. For the rest of the evening he remained so. When they went to bed be he immediately fell asleep. While she lay there in despair his last waking thought, as he slipped from wakefulness to sleep, was the one that had been bothering him all day. “Motorcycle won’t start.”
An incident I encountered was about someone who had been obese and resisted developing sanitary habits during his adolescence. Adults had hounded him and argued among each other about who knew his motives for this behaviour. As an adult he participated in a therapy and finally revealed what he didn’t dare during a time when “nice” people didn’t talk about such things. He’d been molested in early puberty and, for the next few years, adopted an appearance that was so unnattractive that it felt safe.
The Last Supper posts here jarred me further toward an acceptance that I don’t know the motives of people in past times when they showed the participants of the meal reclining. I’d heard many times that the Romans liked to eat in a reclining manner and had looked at it as if they had gone from today’s common style of sitting at a table to eat and, as a result, came to see them as having adopted a slothful and self indulgent manner of laying about during meals.
That post led me to look at them (and others) as having culturaly evolved from laying on the ground in a primitive hovel to elevating themselves to mats couches. It’s still not certain whether that’s the right answer but my acceptance grows; and I need to accept that need for growth.
How often to we avoid looking at the context of the times as we impose our ways onto the motives of people in the past. Visualizing a time perspective going backwards from now to then instead of from what was previous to them and on into their experience. Seeing time running backwards could certainly be a distorting illusion.
There are writings where critics of religion state that God is an illusion and that our cultural growth has led us to improve this alleged creation of ours. Perhaps they’re not looking at a growth in awareness that gives us truer insights into His nature. Are they also failing to accept that which is beyond what our five physical senses can detect instead of learning from cause and effect?
Thank you for the inspiration to help me clarify some of this, and more.
Msgr has written about “slut walks,” events that promote the idea that women should be able to wear whatever they want. It “ISN’T FAIR” that men perceive wearing immodest attire as a sex advertisement.
Perhaps practicing the virtue of acceptance (reality = men are visual) will lead one to the virtue of modesty…
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