Take it from the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need”. Or, take it from Paul, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12, NLT)
I think most of us intellectually understand that we won’t always get what we want, and that sometimes not getting what we want is a good thing. Why then, do so many people resist their actual experience? I hear so often, “if only I could get rid of this anxiety, then…” I could be happy, could be more productive, could travel, whatever. People do this on any number of maladies – if only this, then that. If I tend towards depression, of course it would be great if I were never depressed again. And yet, I know that I have learned many things in times of sadness or low spirits.
The truth is that God can heal – He could take away your anxiety, your depression, your marriage struggles, whatever your “it” is. And in some miraculous cases, He does. But usually, God allows a process. We don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, but whatever it was he struggled with, it kept him from being proud and he eventually learned to love his weakness because it allowed him to boast about God’s strength. God loves a process of learning, because process teaches us something about ourselves and also something about God. That God can use us – even us! – is something to boast about. Paul didn’t get what he wanted, but he got what he needed.
I’m not talking about a cop-out here; there are things in our lives that should change, and we have the power to do something about it. If you have an anger problem and you yell at your wife, I’m not suggesting that you just say “Well, I asked God for help and it hasn’t come yet!”. Or, if you eat donuts every morning and you are hurtling towards diabetes, I’m not suggesting you should simply say “I’ve asked God (three times!) to take away my blood sugar problem and nothing is happening.” Even though we don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, I think we can be assured that it wasn’t something that he could have achieved himself with discipline or better habits. This thorn was something that only God could remove – and God decided not to for Paul’s good.
With that in mind, think about something in your life that you wish would change – something that isn’t completely in your control, like anxiety or a difficult person you are in relationship with. Think about all the time you spend wishing it was different or dreaming about what life would be like if that changed or went away. Well, what if it never changes? What if this is how it is, but instead of wishing it away, you could just find acceptance that this is how it is? What if you could look for the lessons, the blessings, the ways God can use you even though this is what’s happening.
Also, understand that willing acceptance is not the same thing as giving up. For instance, let’s say you have anxiety. Willing acceptance means you let go of being angry about it, wishing it would go away, trying to figure out why and spinning about what’s wrong with you. It’s opening up that space with acceptance and then seeing what is possible even though you are experiencing anxiety. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see your doctor, go to therapy, read books and research answers. It simply means that you willingly accept that in this moment, this is where you are.
The bottom line is, wherever you are in this moment with whatever challenges you face, it’s where you are. You may heal, find answers, stop being anxious, lose weight, fix your relationship some other day – but today, right now, this is where you are. Willingly accepting that truth and then being available for life and for God anyway is your most powerful position. What would it be like to rest in this moment wherever you are and let that be okay?