Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 2)

To help you cope better with unwanted loss, change, or burden in your life, the four steps in this restorative process provide a road map to greater peace and joy. The timetable can range from minutes, days, months, to even years in some cases. Don’t try to rush the process. If your head and heart can move in concert with one other, the process will work better.   

In Step 1, we looked at the importance of fully seeing the truth about whatever you’re going through. Feel your feelings. Assess and name what is real about your circumstances. Let yourself grieve, as ancient Israel did when forced into exile to Babylon. Then it’s time for acceptance.

Descending a treacherous path in the Swiss Alps

Step 2: “Accept”

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles

whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

Take wives and have sons and daughters;

…multiply there, and do not decrease.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,

and pray to the LORD on its behalf,

for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7, NRSV

In these verses, Jeremiah is telling the exiles to accept that they were not going to go back to their homeland any time soon, and to start acting accordingly. They should build houses, have children, plant gardens, and even pray for the well-being of their new city (no doubt on the theory that if their new city prospered, so would they). It was time to move on, mentally, emotionally, and physically, and to start rebuilding their lives in their new location. This is what true acceptance looks like in practice. We let go of the emotional weight we’ve been carrying and controlled by, and start acting in ways that enable us to create a better future for ourselves.

As I was grappling with the shock and trauma from what was happening in Myanmar, I had to accept that there was nothing I could do to protect my students, colleagues, and friends there. I had to accept that frustrating, substandard, online courses (due to terrible internet issues) was the new normal for education there, at least for now, and that something was better than nothing for the young people feeling hopeless about their future. I also needed to let go of many of the relationships that had been important to me when I lived in country. It just hasn’t been possible to keep them going, long distance. And then my church, where I often preached twice a month, closed permanently. I will never preach, teach, or serve that congregation again. In fact, I might never be able to return to Myanmar in person, ever.

All this loss was hard to see, let alone accept, at first. Yet, accepting what I could not change was critical to my ability to preserving my sanity and redirecting my attention to something more constructive. I focused my attention and channeled my energy into my writing and online webinars. I consciously let go of my irrational belief that I had to stay in emotional turmoil to be supportive, and accepted my new circumstances. While I did not choose to be in this place of trying to serve Myanmar from thousands of miles away, the more I accepted the change as something outside my control and focused on what I could realistically accomplish, the more peace I felt. It was freeing and energizing at the same time.

In practice

What truth have you known for a while, but now need to accept? What might open to you, if you let go of your preoccupation with what you’ve lost and cannot recover?  

Acceptance doesn’t mean denying, minimizing, or rushing past your pain and distress. Whatever anger, resentment, bitterness, frustration, self-pity, or any other emotional reaction that has been consuming you takes time to work through. But the more you see these reactions as holding you back rather than helping you cope, the sooner you may be ready to let them go. Somewhere in the process, acceptance also means admitting to yourself that sometimes you cannot undo or fix something that is lost or broken. It’s not necessarily a weakness or failure on your part to accept your limitations. It’s actually a strength. When you find the courage to face and accept whatever truth you need to face, you will naturally shift your focus to what you can do, as opposed to what you cannot. You will start to see the opportunities that are present for you, and your motivation to pursue them will start to rise.

This week’s questions for reflection are these:

  • What troublesome turn of events, inconvenient truth, or unwanted change do you need to accept as a fact?
  • What would acceptance look like for you, in action? That is, if you really said goodbye to what was lost, what would you do differently? How would you invest your thinking, energy, and time?
  • How could you move toward building your home, developing new relationships, planting a garden, and blessing your new circumstances, as Jeremiah instructed the ancient Israelites to do?

Bottom line: Acceptance means letting go of your emotional turmoil related to your unwanted circumstances and looking forward once again.

Suggested Prayer: “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.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Next week, Step 3: “Appreciate.” Accepting what you cannot change sets the stage for moving to the next step, where you will discover many possibilities for experiencing greater joy and satisfaction.

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