The Way of Acceptance


Many, many years ago, when I was a cheery youth, and there was no care in life to weigh me down and no turn of events for me to anticipate except what I dreamed of, I came across an article in the Reader Digest. It was in the late 60s.

The author wrote that at one time in his life, adverse circumstances had so trampled him that he decided the less painful option for him was to take his life away. He devised a failproof way; swim out far into the sea until he ran out of stamina, and then, too exhausted to swim back to shore, sink. As he walked from the beach to the waters, the rushing waves came splashing on his feet. As the water receded, he saw something shining tucked in the wet sand. It was a shell.

While the waves brought in and took away the other shells on the beach, this little one managed to stay in its place through wave after wave. The man stopped. Another wave came, and the mighty waters rushed at the puny shell, then went round it and over it, and the shell continued to remain unmoved from its place.

Something caused the man to stare at the shell and ponder its situation. Here was a tiny presence on earth being continually swamped under by the mightiest force on this planet – the oceans. But as long as it lay low and did not struggle to resist the rushing waters, as long as it allowed the wave to run round it and over it, it was able to survive.

Now here he was, just about to wade into the water and swim to oblivion, because life had continually blasted him off his place. And every time he would regather his hope and set out to live again, the wave would hit him mercilessly again and sweep everything away into the deep. And he could take it no more, and so here he was in his final moments.

He stood there for a while more watching the shell’s calm and unresisting response to the waves, and then turned back to the dry sands. He knew now that this was how he could face and survive every wave of adversity that strikes him. Let the storms of life inundate him and take away everything around him. He isn’t going to resist them in the least anymore but lie low with just his life in his hands. And when the storm subsides, he will go on with just that spared life alone.

The near-suicide had learned a lifesaving lesson from the little shell and the mighty waves, and he went back home with a new attitude. Adverse circumstances did come again, but they could not sweep him off his place anymore because he accepted them and let them pass by him.

As I write this, I have before me a few yellowed pages of another Reader’s Digest article that I just retrieved from my old files. The article is titled ‘The Way of Acceptance’, written by Arthur Gordon, one of the favorite authors of my young adulthood (the other was Dale Carnegie). This article was written in the 60s, but its message is as inspiring to me today as it was four and half decades ago when I first read it.

Gordon wrote:

Some years ago, two friends of ours were given the heartbreaking news that their teenage son was going blind, that nothing could be done. Everyone was torn with pity for them, but they remained calm and uncomplaining. One night, as we left their house, I tried to express my admiration for their fortitude.

I remember how the boy’s father looked up at the stars. “Well,” he said, “it seems to me that we have three choices. We can curse life for doing this to us, and look for some way to express our grief and rage. Or we can grit our teeth and endure it. Or we can accept it. The first alternative is useless. The second is sterile and exhausting. The third is the only way.”

The way of acceptance… How often that path is rejected by people who refuse to admit limitations, who hide behind denials and excuses, who react to trouble with resentment and bitterness. And how often, conversely, when one makes the first painful move towards repairing a damaged relationship, or even a broken life, that move involves acceptance of some thorny and difficult reality that must be faced before the rebuilding can begin. It’s a law that seems to run like a shining thread through the whole vast tapestry of life…

“O Lord,” goes one variation of the old prayer, “grant me the strength to change things that need changing, the courage to accept things that cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.” People have called it the prayer of acceptance.

Precious child of God, having food and clothing and a place to lay down in peace, be content with them, knowing that the Lord is faithful and that he will not allow you to go through any trouble that is unbearable for you but with the trouble he will provide a way of escape (a way of acceptance) so that you are able to bear it until your Protector leads you out of it.

Yes, be content with such things as you have, for the Lord himself has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. Therefore do not fear anything, for the Lord is your helper.  1 Tm 6:6-8; 1 Cor 10:13; Heb 13:5-6


Pappa Joseph


This message was written at a time I was living in an alien land, and circumstances were becoming so unbearable that I decided to cast away all my works and hopes there and retire to ignominy in my own land. As I pondered ways to leave as soon as I could, the lesson of the shell and the insight from the article on the way of acceptance came to mind. And I decided to do just that. I was not going to resist in the least anymore the constant barrage of troubles I was facing then, but let them pass by me and take anything they want from me, but I was going to stick to my life with just the barest the Lord would give me daily – even if that might be just my daily basic food, clothing, and shelter. And one day, some months later, I emerged completely out of my severe troubles, a stronger and happier man.
After reading this message, I urge you to read the unforgettable article I Am Not As Steady At Walking’ by John Elliot in this section. It’s the story of another man devastated physically by adversity and who, by acceptance, now lives a full life. A complementary message on this website which may give you more insights on this subject is ‘Reduce the Pain of the Troubles In Your Life’



“I’m Not As Steady At Walking”

by John Elliot


I love life’s varied pursuits – flying, scuba diving, skiing, sailing, travel, archeology, hiking, producing videos and computing.

I enjoyed these besides being a husband and father and having a demanding career. Life held so many possibilities, so many activities, so many opportunities.

Pursuing an active life had been second nature to me. With my optimism, good health and eyesight and the many opportunities I had been blessed with, I found new challenges a normal part of life. One day I was responsible for several hundred people in a large region, the next I was disabled and replaced.

But things change

Today I live in a retirement community. This period of my life has brought limitations to my participation in many former activities.

I am not steady enough to fly now and problems with vertigo prevent me from scuba diving safely. Skiing causes trauma to a deteriorated back vertebra, as does carrying a rucksack.

I am not as steady at walking and exercise becomes impossible at times. Some days I have had trouble remembering obvious things, like my best friend’s name or the street I live on – and I am only 38.

Disabled (temporarily I hope) from whiplash in a car accident, I find my physical problems have steadily increased in intensity. They came upon me rapidly and at first I rejected them. I viewed them with contempt as I tried vigorously to fight them off.

My approach mimicked that of others I had seen who had fought encroaching limitations, like some who had been placed in old people’s homes, or friends who had become increasingly deaf or blind, or who had contracted a debilitating disease.

When limitations beset us, we often feel as though we are being drawn into a chasm from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Accident victims despair at the permanence of their physical handicaps. The elderly find it intolerable to lose the sharpness of the 5 senses.

Limitations are confused with lack of personal worth. It is hard to resist bitterness towards the hand life had dealt you. The thrill of former victories can transform into the agony of defeat.

The restrictions you find yourself under add to the trauma. These can be the end of a job. The loss of independently moving about and handling one’s affairs, the loss of the privilege to drive a vehicle and even the loss of personal bodily functions.

Now instead of extending helping hands, you are the recipient of helping hands. Your immediate reaction is to reject them, refusing to accept your restricted state.

How often I have heard the elderly and the disabled tell of their anguish over the limitations that gradually overtake them. I have always tried to be understanding of their plight. Now I am experiencing some of it.

Disability, if striking unexpectedly, whether from aging, disease or accident, can be very unsettling. One moment you are reaching for the stars, then the earth falls away from under you.

Today, as I write, no boss calls to direct what I do or where I go. The pressing day’s activities have been replaced with endless quiet hours to fill.

It reminds me of the retired Navy admiral across the street. One day he directed policy from the top. The next, he was a retired private citizen. How rapid some changes can be.

The real problem

No matter what your limitation, there is only one real problem. Your attitude towards it. You can either be the ‘town grump’ over the disability you have or focus on all the limitations you do not have.

For instance, as the president of a deaf society says, ‘Deaf people can do anything, expect hear’. And, in effect, paraplegics can do anything, except walk; the blind can do anything, except see.

The same is true for you and me. We can do anything, except for the few limitations we have and they often are not totally restrictive. For instance, you are either reading or listening to a tape of this magazine right now.

That means you can pursue a degree or be a counselor to your grandchildren, a big brother to a parentless child, or a volunteer for special services.

A paraplegic has been president of the United States, quadriplegics have written valuable books, among other things. They just removed their biggest handicap – their attitude towards their disability.

Success became reality when they responded to challenges. You and I can too.

I may not be able to drive a car now, but others help me get where I need to go. I cannot work a 12-hour day now, but I can work one or 2 hours.

I may have difficulty with public speaking, but I can write. I am a better listener to others with problems and I have more compassion for and better understanding of the problems so many others face today.

A matter of focus

To focus on your own problems to the exclusion of others’ is destructive. Your condition can be so confounding, so frustrating that it occupies much of your thoughts. Too much in fact, causing you to ignore other important matters of life: interaction with family and friends, or benevolent actions to others facing crises, your personal and spiritual development and your enjoyment of life and the world around you.

I recently realized I had forgotten I was an avid flower gardener. For years I enjoyed raising annuals and perennials. In the frustration of my shackles, I have been too preoccupied to think of such an ‘unimportant’ hobby.

Last week, some blooms caught my eye and I realized I was overlooking some of life’s priorities. I had been overlooking other things too. And other people.

A burden to others?

‘I am just a burden to everyone now.’ Did you ever say that about yourself? We all feel that way sometimes.

Yet, I can tell you who are a burden – people who care only about themselves, or those who intentionally feed off the goodwill of others; or those who are ungrateful, complaining and selfish. Such are burdens to everyone irrespective of their state of health.

Not those elderly who have a story and a smile for children; not those in wheelchairs who help others have a better day; not my nearly deaf friend whose subordinates salute him for making their lives better at work. Nor the person who, even in blindness, added spark to a whole town. No, a giving person is a treasure.

New beginnings

Rather than look back at what we cannot do anymore, how about finding things we can do? I am researching a master’s thesis in archaeology. I have taken up a new form of flying and I often try to fly between the radio masts on top of the World Trade Centre, or under the Golden Gate Bridge. I usually crash, but I did make it once. I fly a computer flight simulator.

If we work around our limitations, life can still be full and rich with purpose and meaning. Life did not necessarily deal us an impossible hand. Oh, it may not be a royal flush, but that just adds to the challenge.

Something else you can do is show off a little. Show your wife or husband, your family, your neighbors what you can do. In so doing, show others an example of how to handle those limitations that eventually come to everybody.


Reprinted by the permission of Grace Communion International.