Practicing Acceptance

Recovery has provided me with many lessons about leadership. One principle of recovery challenges the focus of leadership in many church settings: namely … it teaches us to look at ourselves instead of trying to fix others. We can’t waste time trying to change other people, we can only change ourselves.

I find that really refreshing. I am trying to let go of my need to fix everybody … I am just trying to love them.

But if we can’t fix the people around us, how can we live with them? By practicing acceptance.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that we cannot find serenity until we accept things and people as they are. This is hard for many of us, for many reasons.

As Christians, we often struggle to accept people who disagree with us, or who have different standards of behavior. We worry that if we accept someone just as they are, then we are endorsing their moral and spiritual choices. If we want to help them grow or change, we feel we need to withhold acceptance. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When we withhold acceptance – from others or from ourselves – we create conflict and lose the opportunity to stimulate positive change.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

We can accept someone without approving or agreeing with what they do. The reality is that we can’t change them – or control their behavior – anyway. All we can control is our own responses to them.

Our lack of acceptance creates stress and tension in relationships. It also cuts us off from many blessings.

I had a friend from one of the 12 Step programs who was needing more support. I recommended a certain group to him. When he attended the group, he was dismayed because some of the members had a different approach to sobriety than he did. Rather than adopt a “live and let live” approach, and seek to learn from this other program and find the help he needed, he chose to go into a critical, judgmental mode, and refused to participate in the group any longer. He couldn’t get over his disagreement with how they approached recovery – and so lost the opportunity to get support and help he really needed.

Serenity comes when we concentrate on the attitudes we need to change instead of how the world around us needs to change. When we focus on another person’s negative qualities, those qualities grow larger. So why not focus instead on the good qualities?

Our serenity will grow as we develop reasonable, appropriate expectations of others. Remember that everyone is a work in progress. No one is perfect.  Can we accept them – and ourselves – even in the midst of that imperfection?

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