Posted by: Philip Rushton | May 11, 2015

Accepting Life

healingofpersonsI am currently reading a book by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier titled, The Healing of Persons. One of the ideas he develops in his book is the importance of learning how to accept suffering and hardship.

Whether it is an illness, a difficult relationship, a financial set back, or a stressful situation at work, there are always things in life that we struggle to accept. Life is full of frustrations and disappointments. Even when things are going well, there is often something in our life that we would like to be different.

The challenge is to figure out how to respond to this reality that life isn’t perfect. If we are not careful, our disappointments, frustrations, and set-backs can leave us feeling bitter and discontent. Rather than accepting our reality we often try to escape it or fight it. However, there are some situations we can’t escape, and there are some situations where there are not any remedies.

Paul Tournier suggests that, “the Christian answer to suffering is acceptance.” He points to the example of Paul, who learns to accept the “thorn in his flesh” (II Cor 12:9), and Jesus, who accepts the call to suffer on the cross by saying, “not my will, but thine, be done.”

Accepting suffering is a posture that can set us free from a life of constant discontent and anger. In fact, Tournier suggests that when we accept suffering we can start to grow. He writes, “through acceptance, suffering bears spiritual fruit and even psychological and physical fruit as well.”

He tells the story of one of his patients who had to come to terms with her long hospitalization. At first she was bitter and angry at her loss of independence.  She was constantly lashing out at the nurses and medical professionals. Yet, as she learned to accept her situation she was set free from the burden of needing to have everything her way.  In the midst of this transformation she even discovered a calling to care for a lonely patient in the room next to her.  Tournier observed how this change in perspective expedited her emotional, spiritual, and physical healing.

Probably one of the most common areas where struggle to accept reality is in the realm of relationships. Tournier writes:

We have no right to expect that those around us should be perfect.  Accepting one’s life means also accepting the sin of others which causes us suffering, accepting their nerves, their reactions, their enthusiasms, and even the talents and qualities by means of which they outshine us.  It means accepting our families, our clients, and our fellow workers.

Indeed, we have a tendency to get upset and frustrated with the shortcomings of those around us.  In a recent sermon I quoted Dale Bruner who says, “it is a law of life that we consistently undervalue the size of our own faults and overvalue the size of the faults of others.”  We have a tendency to impose unrealistic expectations on those around us.  This results in strained relationships.

So how can we accept life with all its imperfections and frustrations? How can we let go of the heavy burden of discontent and bitterness? Tournier suggests that this requires a spiritual transformation of the heart. He writes, “there is no attitude more impossible for man – without the miraculous intervention of Christ – than the acceptance of suffering.”

Indeed, there are resources within the Christian spiritual tradition that facilitate this process of acceptance. As we meditate on the word of God our minds and hearts are opened up to a deeper perspective that transcends our immediate circumstances.   We can learn to be content in all circumstances when we discover that God is sufficient, we can endure hardship when we understand how it provides an opportunity for growth, and we can come to terms with our mortality when we encounter the hope that nothing can separate us from God.  When it comes to relationships, we can learn to extend forgiveness to those who hurt us when we as humbly accept Christ’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings.

Of course, accepting suffering does not mean we give up trying to bring about positive change in our society and in our relationships.   It also does not mean that we passively tolerate abuse and injustice.  Tournier makes a distinction between ‘resignation’ and ‘acceptance.’  “Resignation is passive,” he says, while, “acceptance is active.”  To accept life is not to claim defeat and conclude that there is no hope.  On the contrary, the acceptance of suffering is an active step toward healing and reconciliation.  It places us in a position where we can work through the challenges of life in a healthy and hopeful way.

Perhaps this week, then, you might reflect on the areas of life you are struggling to accept.  How might God help you accept the reality of life?  How might this process set you free?  How might this process help you experience reconciliation with others?

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Responses

  1. Thank you, for this post! The book sounds like a good one to read.


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