Cats, preening and acceptance

The angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you – hence the offspring to be born will be called the Holy One of God.”

Mary said, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done to me as you say.” (Luke 1:28b, 35, 38a)

I don’t care what the church has told us for centuries about how happy Mary was to obediently do God’s will to have a celestial child. First, I don’t believe it was possible for her to be joyously, jump-up-and-down-happy, with no doubts or fears. Why on earth would she rejoice about being a teenager, pregnant out-of-wedlock (even if it is God’s child) in an ancient society that stoned people in this situation? Second, I don’t like the concept of obedience (it smacks too much of one having “power over” another), so I’m going with: she reluctantly accepts what is being asked of her.

The art of acceptance is a life lesson we can all draw from this story. Life does not always take the turns we want or expect it to take. Sometimes difficult, even tragic events occur in our lives. The question is: how do we react?

(Check out the full audio version of this sermon.)

I’m sure you all remember Michael J. Fox, a great actor with a promising career right up until an early onset of Parkinson’s Disease rendered him unable to keep acting. He had this profound thing to say about acceptance: “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”

What does acceptance mean? Well, it does not mean giving up. Acceptance means not dwelling in the negative emotions and attitudes that can dominate our minds when we don’t like the situation we’re in. Acceptance means being able to say, “Okay, this is what it is, now what?” Acceptance brings us freedom from the weight of disappointment, frustration, anger, guilt, pain, grief and any other negative place you may get stuck in. Acceptance also gives us the ability to move forward. Instead of getting stuck in those unhealthy emotions, we have the ability to see new options, new possibilities and to approach life from a more peaceful, centered, balanced place.

When we relax into the twists and turns of life and trust that we’ll be ok, we have a much greater chance of being happy in the midst of it all. Cats are a great example. If you’ve ever had a cat, you know that they are determined to go wherever it is they want to go. But if someone blocks their way they will simply take the opportunity to sit back, lick their paws and preen themselves.

Sometimes we get stressed over relatively little things that we have no control over, when acceptance would go a long ways in the happiness and lower blood pressure departments. Perhaps you’re panicking because you haven’t started your Christmas cards yet. Really… so what? I have one extremely creative friend who sent me a Valentine’s card one year that looked suspiciously like a Christmas card. Know what? I really didn’t care. I was just happy to have been thought of, and I could probably even appreciate it more since I didn’t get any other Valentine’s cards! Acceptance allows us to find new possibilities.

And then there are the bigger things that perhaps we need help accepting. These things may take more time, work and maybe even some help. I know the holidays are especially hard when you are facing things like not having the kids home for the first time ever, or you’ve had a significant loss recently, or you’re estranged from your family.  It’s absolutely normal to feel sad about these situations, and it is good to recognize and accept your sadness. It is also okay to move into some acceptance of the situation. It’s okay to find different people to share the holidays with, to develop different traditions and to smile, laugh and enjoy yourself without guilt.

There is so much more to all of this, but I will leave it here for now. May you find peace and acceptance of yourself and your life this Christmas time.