Acceptance — Another Word for Giving up Control

Steve BrownBy Steve Brown9 Minutes


Chapter 6
Control: The Mother of All Addictions

I mentioned in a previous chapter some of the steps that are part of “grief work” (shock, denial, bargaining, anger, etc.). One of the steps is acceptance. Acceptance is another word for giving up control. It’s the recognition that some things, as horrible as they are, simply aren’t fixable. My late mentor Fred Smith often said that the essence of Christian maturity was knowing the difference between problems and facts. Problems are fixable, or at least made better with effort. We can only accept facts. In other words, if you can control it, it’s a problem; and if you can’t control it, it’s a fact.

As I write this, some of my oldest and most beloved friends are struggling. The wife has Alzheimer’s, and they sold their home and moved into an extended care facility. After they moved into their new apartment and everybody who helped them move had left, my friend told me that he and his wife just held each other and cried. That’s so sad I can hardly stand it.

But there is more to the story. I’m friends with another couple where the wife is also dealing with the same horrible disease. I asked him how they dealt with that tragedy. “We laugh a lot,” he said, “and some things that happen are really funny. We both know that it’s bad, and we can’t remedy the situation, so we’ve learned to make jokes about it.” And they do. One time when we were having dinner together at a restaurant, the wife excused herself, got up, and left. She was gone for a long time. When she came back to the table, he asked her why she had taken so long. “I got lost,” she said, “and I went into the men’s room. It took a long time for me to explain my being there to the men who were surprised to see me.” Then she laughed and said, “Only joking.” We all laughed.

I told my friends who had moved into the extended care facility about that incident and how sometimes the best way to deal with the dark was to make jokes about it. “It’s still hard for them as it is for you,” I said, “but they do laugh at the funny things that happen.”

Later my friend told me that the advice about laughter was the best advice he had ever received. “I think it’s going to be okay.” It was, as it were, like growing flowers in hell.

That’s an arresting phrase, “Growing flowers in hell.” Who does that? Let me tell you. People who have stopped trying to control everything. People who know the difference between problems and facts. And people who know God. Frankly, I have no idea how atheists deal with the dark. For them, growing flowers in hell would seem insane. There is an old story of a dying gangster who offered an incredible amount of money to his doctor if the doctor could keep him alive. That was his Modus Operandi. It’s called control; and without God, it’s all you’ve got. That’s particularly sad because we control far less than we think we do.

Bad Stuff Happens

Let me share some things (perhaps reminders) with you about laughter, lament, freedom, and control that I’ve found helpful. The first reminder is that bad stuff happens—sometimes really bad stuff. Jesus said that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust” (Mathew 5:45). In other words, life really is hard and nobody can live as an outsider of the human race. When Job’s life came apart, he told his wife who had told him to “curse God and die” (a woman, I might say, he should have divorced long before things turned bad), “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9–10). Later Job said that if God should kill him he would still trust God (Job 13:15). That, by the way, was the last positive spiritual thing Job says in the book. He was, after all, human and sinful, and just couldn’t sing that he had “joy down in his heart.” Like you and me, Job questioned God, had doubts, and did his cussing and spitting.

However, if you read Job chapters 38–41, you will see an amazing thing happen. Job decided to question God, and God says, “I don’t think so. I will question you, and you will answer me.” And God does that with a series of questions that are humbling for anybody, and for Job, really humbling. He starts with, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). After that there is one question after another and, with each question, I suspect Job was looking for a place to hide. That section of Scripture ends with Job saying. “Oops. Shut my mouth.” Well he didn’t exactly say that. Job said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). At that point, Job gave up control. And, as an aside, it was after he gave up control that God poured out his favor on Job.

I previously talked about the implications of lament with darkness as a part of it. Suffice it to say here that that darkness is real and universal. It’s not just “death, war, and taxes.” It’s Alzheimer’s, sexual abuse and trafficking, economic loss, political, social, and personal betrayal, crime, greed, racism, bullying, and on and on. But it’s also personal loss, personal sin, and personal involvement in the darkness. It feels hopeless and, in a way, it is. Our tears of lament (once we’ve looked those demons in the eye) are appropriate. We live in a fallen and bad world, and we’re a part of it. No Christian should be surprised that bad stuff happens, and it happens a lot. Jesus said, after telling his disciples about what would happen and it wasn’t good, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

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