Bill W, the author of the Big Book, as they call it in Alcoholics Anonymous, learned a valuable lesson through the ups and downs of his life. He offers this wisdom as a key to happiness:
“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away . . . . And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me. I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake . . . . Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” —Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), 4th Edition, P. 417
Bill was a wise man. His wisdom continues to inspire and guide many people decades after his death.
But, I need to be honest. Acceptance doesn’t come easy for me. I’m a fixer—a how-do-we-solve-this-problem kind of guy. So, when I bump into things in life I can’t control, I find myself on a high-speed highway heading head-on for an emotional crash and burn, because I want to push back, dig in my heals, and try harder. But when I do, I often fail and hurt others along the way.
There are just some things in life I can’t control—like the weather, people’s attitudes, the death of a loved one, or a peaceful protest in my city that fast-tracked into a riot.
Gradually, I’m learning to recognize when those uncontrollable things happen, and instead of moving into high gear fix-it mode, I bring them to God like an innocent child, holding the problem in outstretched hands and saying, “Poppa, it’s broken. I’m broken. Can you show me how to either let go of this problem or refocus on what you’re calling me to do?”
Accepting life on life’s terms doesn’t mean becoming passive and letting the world walk all over our hearts. Rather, by taking the problem to Poppa, he helps us discover the wisdom he’s inviting us to learn through life’s experiences. Life becomes our teacher.
Sometimes acceptance lessons come in small trivial ways.
For example, I am a backyard birdwatcher. I love to pour birdseed into the feeders around my house and cottage and watch the blue birds, cardinals, and sparrows fill their bellies. There’s a giving and receiving that breathes joy into my heart.
But then along comes Mr. Squirrel. He grabs a hold of the feeder and chomps away at the seed like he’d just gotten off a week-long fast.
I used to run and scare Mr. Squirrel away or put baffles on the feeder pole to block his path. That worked for a few days, but soon he’d be back, laughing at me after having found a creative way to get to the seed.
As I sat baffled, watching my furry friend and teacher chomp away, I took the problem to Poppa. After several moments of reflection, I heard the Creator whisper, “Let it go. Let your feeder be a source of joy, a community of feasting wildlife. Be delighted by this explosion of nature that brings beauty into your life.”
The next night as my wife and I sat around a roaring campfire, a band of raccoons hustled up the tree to the birdfeeder. We chuckled with joy as the bandits entertained us.
Sometimes acceptance lessons come in bigger ways.
Like the other night as I watched local news showing a peaceful protest fire-cracking into a riot. A band of dissidents smashed and looted their way into businesses on either side of my downtown office. I held my breath in fear and anger, knowing I was powerless over the determined mob. I wanted to run downtown and protect my property, but doing so would only fuel an already volatile situation.
I was helpless. I had no control over a situation that could affect me and my business.
I watched and I prayed. I took my fears to Poppa and asked him to open my heart and take the anger inside me away. That night, I dreamed my office windows had been blanketed with crayon-papered images created by innocent, faceless children. The next morning, I hesitantly went to work, afraid of what I would find—especially as the closer I got to my office, the more damage I saw. I parked and walked down the street, stepping over glass and around police tape. When I got to my office, there was no damage. Nothing. My office building had been spared. My prayers had been heard.
There are many things I can’t control.
I can’t fix the racial tensions that continue to divide our nation. So many previous administrations have tried without success. The only thing I can do is ask God for help—and open my heart and let love expand it, rather than letting anger shut down my soul.
The fixer in me wants to offer a solution. I’ve followed the vision of Candace Owens, a young black woman who continues to preach that providing strong literacy skills and expanding employment for the black community, not violent protests and riots, are how to focus on solutions for her race. I would love to see a national task force consisting of wise men and women, not politicians, who would convene like the Covid-19 Task Force and offer constructive solutions to an age-old problem.
I’m going to write our government leaders and propose this task force idea. I’m also going continue to encourage Candace with her Bill W focus-on-the-solution approach. These are tiny pieces of a much larger puzzle. But it’s what I’ve heard Poppa invite me to do.
Acceptance flows in me by changing myself and showing up to the page each day and writing. Those are the tools I’ve been given. In doing so, I’m invited to find the key to inner happiness and embody as best as I can the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. In the process, I’m discovering the daily gift of choosing G.A.—aka grateful acceptance.
—brian j plachtabrianplachta.net
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.