Acceptance is an active process

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I’ve struggled with depression for my entire adult life. It comes and goes in intensity, and I’ve gradually learned many ways to deal more effectively with it over the years, but it’s still something I continuously have to manage.

That reality is draining, and it affects the energy I have to deal with other things in life. I am often guilty of letting things slide that I’d be better off addressing.

Many of you are probably familiar with the famous prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, commonly known as the Serenity Prayer. It goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I always thought it was a little odd to start out with focusing on acceptance and wait to consider change until the second line. Shouldn’t we try to change things first before we resort to accepting things as they are?

Given the limited energy I have to deal with things, it’s been easy for me to default toward accepting that there are a lot of things I can’t change in life. Accepting things as unchangeable seemed like an easier path because it was a much more passive thing than attempting to create change.

Over the years, I’ve slowly changed my mind about that. The practice of kintsugi living showed me that acceptance—real acceptance—was just as active as creating change. The only difference was that the activity required was internal.

What I had thought was acceptance was actually more like inertia or maybe resignation. I acknowledged that I couldn’t change something, but I continued to complain about it, resent it, and live in an active state of internal resistance to what is.

That’s not acceptance.

Real acceptance is much more active. It means learning to live and even thrive in tension with those things we can’t change. It means learning to surf those realities like a wave rather than standing there to be bowled over by them.

For me, that meant spending time actively shifting the stories I told myself about my relationship with these things I couldn’t change. It meant dropping my complaining and resentment and instead finding productive ways to engage with reality (even forms of reality I didn’t like).

It meant rethinking my expectations and seeking out ways to make small changes that could make those things I couldn’t change easier to live with.

In the process, a surprising thing happened. As I began to do all that inner work of living into real acceptance, I discovered that some of the things I had thought were things I couldn’t change were things I had more power to change than I thought I did.

In addition, that inner work liberated so much of the energy that I had been funneling into resistance and resentment so that I could use that energy instead in creating change where I could.

As a result, the quality of my life (inner and outer) has improved in so many ways. My depression has gone from a central reality of my life to something I keep an eye on in the periphery.

The more I treat the act of accepting things I can’t change as the truly active process it is, the more I have the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to tell the difference. Clearly there was more wisdom that I knew in addressing the acceptance of things we can’t change first!

What does the acceptance of things you can’t change in your life look for you? What active steps do you take toward acceptance?

How do you differentiate between what you can’t change and what simply requires more courage to be able to change?

How has that wisdom is telling the difference grown for you over time?

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