18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
Remember my post on Chapter Two where I talked about the author’s journey to wisdom? Today’s chapter is where Qohelet (the author, whom I discuss in Chapter One) solidly establishes a mentality of acceptance – and manifests the peace and wisdom that brings. So it seems appropriate to talk about finding and practicing acceptance in our own lives today. But what a tricky post this is to write, for I am no expert! Acceptance is very much a skill I am still learning, and slowly. I must admit I feel like a bit of an impostor making it the subject of a blog post. But perhaps, in writing it, we can all learn together, so I’ll forge ahead.
What acceptance isn’t
Let’s start with talking about what acceptance is not, because I think that has helped most in my journey to practicing acceptance. Acceptance is not resignation or agreement. By accepting a situation for what it is, you are not abdicating any of your own power, but rather fully recognizing reality and thwarting denial. Acceptance is also not wallowing in your feelings forever. By accepting feelings you may wish to avoid, you acknowledge them and give yourself the freedom to move forward.
Accepting the bad: working through an example
As an example: let’s say you worked really hard to get a promotion and felt confident in your ability to achieve it, only to be passed over for a coworker you feel doesn’t deserve it. This is a painful situation: disappointment, inadequacy, anger, and frustration are all perfectly normal feelings to have. It is good to acknowledge (aka, accept) them instead of trying to push them down. By giving yourself a chance to feel these emotions in a safe, controlled environment (such as over the weekend, or even a handful of weekends, at home with loved ones supporting you) you lessen the risk of them spilling out in a detrimental manner at work. If there is one part of acceptance I have mastered, it’s having a good cry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Chris “I just need to be sad right now,” and then sobbed into my pillow for ten minutes, feeling much better after just giving into that sadness instead of trying to have a stiff upper lip. Poor Chris, he rolls with it even though I think it still freaks him out.
After accepting your feelings, you can look at the situation critically, accepting the reality of it. On first blush this sounds like resignation, but it’s really the first step in seeing where your power truly lies. When you’re able to neutrally observe this newly-promoted coworker, maybe you’ll see that maybe they had skills you didn’t realize, and the boss really knew what they were doing. This realization can lead to a new mentorship, a productive discussion with the boss, and perhaps a future promotion. Also possible: you may realize that you work in a dysfunctional environment where cronyism is more at play than rewarding hard work, and you need to either learn to play the game or get out. It sounds harsh, but realizing something like that is better than resisting reality, or trying to make a reality (like a dysfunctional workplace) bend to your ideal (one where hard work is rewarded) – because that isn’t going to happen and will only lead to further frustration.
Accepting the good – permission to rest
Surprisingly, I think a lot of Americans have just as much trouble practicing acceptance with the good in their lives as the bad, starting with down-time. Collectively, we resist, mock, or deny rest. As this pandemic has made painfully apparent, many workers (especially low-wage workers) are expected to show up for work even when sick, and are oftentimes punished – even to the point of firing – if they stay home to take care of themselves. In more white-collar jobs, it is often a point of pride to be the one coming in early to the office or staying late, the one who has the most meetings or biggest workload. This nose-to-the-grindstone mentality keeps even those that have the ability to rest (in the form of paid vacation and set office hours) from it. And my personal example: our three farm employees live with us at the moment, and I still feel the urge to jump up and be productive whenever one of them shows up, because I feel guilty if I’m sitting down in the middle of the day. I constantly have to remind myself that my work is different from theirs: when they’re slowing down in the evening is when I’m revving up with making dinner and the bedtime routine. But even here do you see how I’m justifying rest with subsequent work? I seriously thought about deleting these last few sentences, but I’m going to leave them here to demonstrate just how pathological our resistance to rest is, even when it’s readily available to us. To rest is good and acceptable. There’s even a commandment about not toiling on the Sabbath. We need to accept rest into our lives, and create a culture where everyone can access rest, as well.
Accepting the good – not everything has to make money
Now let’s talk about the side hustle! As a mostly stay at home mom I really feel the pressure for the side-hustle. I work hard, especially now with quarantine: I’m the cook and grocery shopper for the family, and now the teacher and therapist as well as all the other duties that running a household requires, like laundry, bill pay, cleaning, and child-care. But it is unpaid work, and without that paycheck, I must remind myself that this work, too, has real value. It’s an uphill battle: my IG feed is littered with sponsored ads for online seminars that promise to “turn your passion into a six-figure enterprise” or how you can “make money during naptime doing what you love,” insidiously implying that I’m not doing enough, and that money is the only acceptable end-goal. Also, while compliments like “you’re so good at [baking, knitting, writing, drawing, or whatever other hobby you may have], you should start a business!” are, truly, meant as compliments, they show where our collective value lies: not in the enjoyment of the craft, but in the potential cash flow that craft could maybe, possibly, bring.
Now I’m not going to lie, I would be delighted if this blog started generating a little cash for me. I definitely have my Patreon and Venmo accounts set up, should you feel so moved. But more than anything I write this because it is a way for me to connect and define my faith, and share a message of love that I fear is severely lacking in broader Christianity. And as for my other hobbies, like quilting or mending? Those are definitely just for me, and the people I gift things to, because they bring me joy, even without a dollar sign attached to them.
Accepting the good – compliments
Why, when someone gives us a compliment, do we feel the need to downplay it? Real examples from my own life:
“The house is so clean!” “Thanks, it’s still got a ways to go, but it’s better than it was.”
“Wow, your garden is really coming along!” “Thanks, I’m happy I got the greens in but I still have a lot of work to do.”
“You’re hair is so cute today!” “Thank you, but I really need to get it cut.”
You know the expression there’s a silver lining to every cloud? It’s almost like we need the perverse opposite when someone compliments us: a thunderstorm behind every rainbow. Why can’t we acknowledge our gifts without sounding boastful? Why can’t we accept a compliment with just a simple “thank you.” Some people are certainly better than others at it, but it’s another thing I’m trying to work on. I want to enjoy my clean house, my garden growing, my good hair days. If we follow the Ecclesiastes call to joy, we begin to see and accept that God wants us to enjoy these things and more, as well.
The first and biggest step to practicing acceptance is practicing mindfulness. When we are mindful of our feelings and our circumstances, we are better able to react positively to both. When something bad happens, we can treat ourselves kindly instead of compounding any problems through our own resistance. When something good happens, we can lean into the experience. And this, I believe, is part of the spiritual maturity God wants for us and from us. God wants us to be happy. That doesn’t mean that any sorrow in our lives is evidence of God’s disinterest – bad things do happen. (Which is another truth Qohelet recognizes throughout Ecclesiastes.) But we have the formula for deep joy: to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in our labor. If we are mindful and accepting while putting this formula into practice, joy and wisdom are within our grasp.
If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next. Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email. Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo. Thank you!