Radical Acceptance is the Answer to All Your Problems

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Radical acceptance is the answer to all your problems

By:  Rick Fannin

Radical Acceptance Is The Answer To All Your Problems

My absolutely favorite passage from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book  is found on page 417, where it says:

"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, and 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.  Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy.  I need concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes" [1, p. 417].

Applying the wisdom found from this passage has transformed my life.  As best as I can, I try to live my life with radical acceptance of what is so that I can stop suffering when the reality of life does not match up with my expectations of life.  There is so much that can be learned from this one simple paragraph.  We could probably spend an entire week dissecting the wisdom from each of these sentences.  However, I will attempt to summarize the Spiritual wisdom which is found in this one paragraph.

How is Acceptance the Answer to My Problems with Drugs and Alcohol?

We cannot change what we do not first accept.  Acceptance is not an invitation to do nothing, to use as an excuse to give up on changing things.  It is about acknowledging and accepting the truth.  Grasping this concept will help you realize that acceptance is the answer to all of your problems today.  However, it is not the complete answer to your problems, but it is the first step in solving your problems with drugs or alcohol.

Acceptance means acknowledging the truths about the situation.  First, we must acknowledge and accept that the problem exists.  Acceptance of a problem should ignite a fire that demands action, and acceptance catalyzes change.

Until we could acknowledge and accept that we had a drug or alcohol problem, there was zero motivation to change a problem that we were unaware of even being a problem.  However, just accepting that we have a problem with drugs or alcohol was not enough for us to change.

As part of step one, we also had to accept that our problem with drugs or alcohol has made our lives unmanageable.  We had to acknowledge and accept how it has impacted us physically, emotionally, financially, relationally, Spiritually, and our education and career.  This realization can be a painful pill to swallow, but a powerful change comes from swallowing this pill.

Until you accept a situation, you are powerless over it.  However, once you radically accept the truth about a situation, you begin to gain the power needed to change things.  After you accept things, you must then ask yourself,
"What am I going to do about it?" When we stop denying or wallowing in the problem, we may finally begin living in the answer, and the problem will disappear.

Next, we had to acknowledge and accept that we have been living life is not how we want to continue to live our life.  We had to stop blaming others for our problems and acknowledge and accept that we are the ones that are responsible and accountable to get our life back on track and headed in the right direction.  However, we also had to acknowledge and accept that we have been unsuccessful at changing on our own, acknowledging that we needed help, and becoming willing to accept this help to have hope for a better tomorrow.  This acceptance begins our journey of freedom, recovery, and transformation.

We begin to use the Serenity Prayer and ask God to grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  We look back at this paragraph from page 417 and begin to see that there is much more Spiritual wisdom to be gained.  We begin to practice "Radical Acceptance" in all areas of our life.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Before you can fully leverage this wisdom, it is essential to know what radical acceptance is and what it is not.  The phrase "radical acceptance" comes from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which helps people move on rather than getting stuck.  In life, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.  Radical acceptance will help you deal with the painful situations in life and reduce your suffering.

Radical Acceptance goes against all of our conditioned reactions. Pain always serves a purpose, but we have spent much of our life trying to avoid dealing with pain.  Rather than embracing physical and emotional pain, we tend to resist it. We tense up our muscles and our minds. We start thinking about what could be causing the pain, how long it might last, what we can do to make it disappear. Perhaps we blame ourselves for the pain, think it's a sign of our own shortcomings, become self-critical, and beat ourselves down.  Often we blame others for the pain we are experiencing and become angry when they are unwilling or unable to change in a manner that suits us. Instead of changing the situation or changing our emotions about the situation, we resist, which results in elongating the suffering that we are experiencing.

Much of our pain comes where the reality of life does not align with our expectations of life.  This is where radical acceptance can help you reduce the pain.  Radical acceptance is based on the notion that suffering comes not directly from pain but from one's attachment to the pain or attachment to a particular outcome that, when untrue, results in pain.  As long as we remain attached to a false outcome, we will remain in pain.  Instead of being attached to a painful past, radical acceptance suggests that non-attachment is the key to overcoming suffering. Non-attachment does not mean not feeling emotions. Instead, it refers to an intention of not allowing pain to turn into suffering. This means watching your thoughts and feelings to identify when you are allowing yourself to feel worse than is necessary.

The process of radical acceptance, however, is the same for any situation. It consists of becoming aware of our denial or negative thinking and allowing our thoughts to pass through us without becoming caught up in them or judging them or others.

A good practice would be to take several deep breaths and repeat to yourself that the situation is what it is.  We are not judgemental about the situation, just an observer.  From this perspective, we can begin to see if the situation that we can change ourselves, and if not, I must determine if I can condone it.  If I am powerless to change it and cannot condone it, then it is up to me to strengthen my boundaries or distance myself from it.

Let us look at an example.  Suppose you begin dating someone and are in a relationship, and they cheat on you.  We get hurt and angry because our partner did not live up to our expectations of how a partner should be.  We can accept the truth that they did what they did, either forgive and move on with the relationship or move on with our lives by distancing ourselves from the dysfunctional relationship.  Many times, we remain unable to accept the truth about what happened, unable to forgive, and keep replaying the argument about the past over and over.  We extend the suffering in our life.

Likewise, we may have forgiven them and tried to move on with the relationship, and then they cheated again, and again, and again.  We have been unable to accept that a dog will do dog-like things and accept that a cheater will cheat.  In this case, we failed to "have the wisdom to know the different" from the Serenity Prayer.  We were banking our happiness on someone else's ability to change and lacked the courage to change the things we could by getting out of the toxic and dysfunctional relationship.

How Is Radical Acceptance Spiritual?

Radical acceptance is rooted in Biblical principles and within the scriptures.  Spiritual acceptance is truly about acknowledging the truth, surrendering self-will, surrendering to God's will, and taking action aligned with faith.  Radical Spiritual acceptance is a moment-by-moment surrender of selfish desires and accepting the truth about what is.  By doing this, we learn to detach from our painful past and detach from unrealistic expectations of others and the future.  We also learn to detach from dysfunctional and unrealistic expectations, beliefs, views, and thoughts about ourselves, others, the world, and God.

We radically accept that God is God, and we are not.  We begin to gain an awareness of how our inappropriate use of self-will has been a result of us trying to play God in the lives of others.  This self-centered behavior has resulted in pain and suffering in our life, and in the lives of those around us.  We radically accept that our inappropriate use of self-will is a result of sin.  We radically accept that we are sinners, lost, and in desperate need of a savior.

We begin to gain self-awareness of how living our life ran upon self-will has blocked us from living the life that God had intended for us to have.  We radically accept that God loves us and loves us so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins.  We radically accept, sometimes slowly, that living a life aligned with God's will and Biblical instructions is a more joyous way of living life.

Notice, we said joyous and did not say pain-free.  As we begin to accept and apply the verses from the Bible radically, it changes how we live life and how we look at life, ourselves, and others.

By reading, praying, and meditating upon God's word, we realize that God did not promise that life would be pain-free.  Actually, much of the pain and suffering that we experience in life results from the original sin of Adam and Eve.  We also begin to radically accept that what may happen to us here early on is pretty much insignificant, yet we have lived much of our life with a misconception that everything that happens to us on earth is significant.  We begin to realize what matters the most happens on the other side of eternity.

We learn to radically accept a way of living that keeps the end in mind; we learn to get out of the way of achieving our goals, peace, joy, serenity, and eternity.   God makes us a promise that in keeping with his ways, there is a rich reward that awaits us.  However, he also informs us that there will be suffering while on earth, as shown in the verses below.

"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will. That's why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father." For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don't need to hope for it.  But if we look forward to something we don't yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)" – Romans 8:1-25

We begin to radically accept that we are no longer a slave to our sinful nature and no longer have to live a life of self-will run riot.  We no longer attempt to manipulate life to our liking.  Faith is living without manipulating the outcome.  We also begin to radically accept that faith without works radically is dead.  We cannot just sit idle waiting for God to hand everything to us. We must do our part too.  We realize and radically accept that we have not been a good steward of the time that God has blessed us with; we have wasted so much time.  Suddenly, work is no longer work.  As we take on a servant's heart, work becomes an act of worship to God, as seen in the verse below.

"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does." – Ephesians 6:7-8


Yet, even when we do our best, life will still be life, things will not always turn out the way we would like for them to be, and as promised, there will be pain in our lives.  We begin to radically accept that pain is part of the human condition and punishment for the original sin.  Yet, as we radically accept God's word as the truth, the sting is removed from this pain.  We can look behind us and see how goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our lives.  Yet, just behind goodness and mercy are dots connected to each of the painful mistakes in our life.  We suddenly realize that "Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's word by mistake" [1, p. 417], and we radically accept the truth found in Romans 8:28-30:

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory."

God's truth is that we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  As we accept this truth, we begin to realize how much time we have wasted in being the best version of ourselves by being so focused and critical of others shortcomings, as shown in verse below:

"Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?" – Matthew 7:1-3

We have focused on all of the wrong things.  We have been so consumed and attached to how others should be that we have become detached from how we are not living our life according to God's standard.  Why should others live up to our standard of living when we are unable to live up to God's standard of how we should live?  So, we stop judging others and radically accept them as they are.  We begin to start living inside of our hula hoop with our focus and priority being on making sure that our behaviors are in alignment with God, as shown in verse below:

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself" – Galatians 6:1

We begin to radically accept just how much that God loves us.  Just like a parent's love for a child, this love is unconditional.  There is nothing that we could ever do that would cause God to love us any less, and there is nothing that we could ever do that would cause God to love us any more than He already does.  Radically accepting this truth causes any remaining shame of our past to vanish. God's love is made possible through His Grace, as illustrated in verse below:

"What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God's right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" – Romans 8:31-39.

We could never earn God's Love or His Grace.  God freely gives these things to us if we will just receive them.  Matthew 10:8 tells us, "…Give as freely as you have received!" As we begin to meditate about the truth from His word, we begin to understand that our love for others tends to be conditional and with strings attached.  God granted us grace, yet we do not freely give grace or love to others.  We radically accept our painful past, and we begin to put love into action by forgiving others for what they have done to hurt us.  We radically accept that they are who they are, a sinner in need of a savior just like me, and we forgive them and love them anyway.  We finally learn the full meaning of Matthew 7:12:

"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets."


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