The Message of Gold
On this day, God wants you to know that only true acceptance brings true peace.
… at least that’s what the app on Facebook told me about a week ago. As soon as I read it, I knew it would become fodder for a blog. I love words. And I’m always cognizant that sometimes the definition I’ve become accustomed to accepting for any given word isn’t necessarily what the original word meant. For instance, “handsome” was once used to describe a stately or dignified woman, not man. Today, it’s almost exclusively used to describe an attractive male. That’s just one rather poor example: I’m sure many of the few followers I have could come up with more interesting ones off the top of their heads. (My pastor alone could undoubtedly write a book about the evolution of word definitions). My point is that sometimes it provides me a unique perspective on an issue or situation to take into account what a word originally meant. So, before diving into this issue, I looked the word “acceptance” up in the dictionary. This is what I found:
– n –
1. The act of accepting or the state of being accepted or acceptable
2. Favorable reception; approval
3. belief (in) or assent (to)”
The second definition is the one my conventional brain recognized and instinctively attributed to the word, so it isn’t of much help, as it makes me ill. Change is almost never given a “favorable reception” or “approval” by me. Indeed, I’d wager it’s ill received by the majority of the population. So, we will pretend it was not in the dictionary’s definition at all and move right along to discussing the other two options.
The first definition sounds, at first read, a lot like the second. Its semantics, the way it is worded, though, makes a difference. The second definition, the one I don’t like, sounds natural, as though one naturally approves of the situation or circumstance. When I discovered I was pregnant, for example, I genuinely was in favor of the change. I genuinely approved of it. I didn’t have to try, I was simply excited and happy and elated and all those good things. The first definition, though, has an important clause: “the act of …” This clause implies that one may not be inclined to accept the circumstance or issue — but chooses to accept it anyway.
Now. My “message from God” stated that only true acceptance could bring peace. If you look up the word “peace” in the dictionary, you’ll see this definition:
1. in a state or relationship of non-belligerence; not at war.
2. untroubled, tranquil; content
3. cause to refrain from creating a disturbance”
To me, this is to say that peace is a calming of the seas, a cease fire, a time when the only activity is joyful and carefree; the time of day when there are no waves. And yet….you can be absent from all action, away from all disturbances, and still not be “at peace,” can’t you? I mean, I don’t know about you but sometimes it’s those moments when I’m alone, when no one is bothering me or talking to me or stressing me out, that I’m most bothered and stressed out. There’s a Tanya Tucker song that says, “you can’t run from yourself.” Everyone seems to be working hard to obtain “peace” — but if that’s just the mere absence of strife, couldn’t we achieve that with solitude? Why, then, in prison, is isolation considered a form of punishment and not a reward?
“On this day, God wants you to know that only acceptance can bring peace.”
The trick, you see, is in realizing that the “strife” you have to silence in order to find the calming of the waves, the peaceful state we all seek, is within us. Aren’t we our worst critic? For years, ever since I was a child, I’ve told myself I “can’t do math.” I practically give up when confronted by numbers and asked to do the simplest equation. I roll my eyes, laugh at my stupidity and happily cling to my crutch: the calculator. And yet—over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of math and I just started challenging myself. I’d see a problem, and I’d try to do it in my head. I didn’t do it the ‘correct’ way–no, I added and subtracted from left to right rather than from right to left and for my backwards brain, it worked. I’d come up with a “tentative solution” and then check it against a calculator since I’m “not good with numbers.” Much to my amazement, my answer and the calculator’s answers were the same time and time again. I felt like a genius. Since having to teach my daughter math, I have obtained peace with my life-long enemy, Math. Or, wait—was math the enemy or was the enemy my own self-defeating thoughts?
Peace with Math feels like a major victory. I’m still not Einstein, I doubt I could handle complex math equations without bursting into tears and feeling clumsy and awkward. I’d undoubtedly still need my calculator. The difference is that a wrong answer doesn’t make me feel like a failure anymore. I’ve “accepted” that Math and I can co-exist…. even though I’d still prefer numbers to disappear from the planet altogether. I had to make a conscious decision to conquer math, instead of live in fear of it, because I knew my daughter needed to learn its basic concepts. So I looked my fear of it in the face and learned I knew more than I thought I did.
I wonder… does it work the same with more complicated, more messy circumstances and situations? What about things like a painful past? How can you “accept” such things? How do you find peace amid the debris?
This is difficult for me to answer, and I really struggle with it. I don’t want to just write something trite; I don’t want to give a “right” answer that isn’t really feasible. The answer matters to me. And I don’t know that I have one. That being said…
If we’re not in a state of “peace”, if we haven’t accepted something, then what? According to the dictionary’s definition, we would then be “at war”. We would be in a state of belligerence, we would be engaged in a battle, or struggle of some sort. And, if we take into account the dictionary’s first definition of the word “acceptance,” we would have to conclude that we have not yet decided to accept as fact the past. The conclusion, then, would be that we’re still engaged in a fight to change it—change it or erase it. We might put clarifications on that. We might make conditional clauses: “if only I could understand,” or “if only they’d acknowledge it.” We may use relevant excuses: “it still affects my present,” “it still hurts,” or “I lost _________.” All of those things may well be true. But they are still war statements. They are still fields for battle. We’re still fighting the bottom line.
The past cannot be changed.
Nothing will change the facts. No apology, no amount of understanding, no self-help book, no psychologist. No amount of tears, no number of books; there’s no “white-out”, I can’t build a wall around my heart that’s going to be high enough to block it from memory. It simply is. The truth is — that hurts. It hurts a lot, not a little. It hurts enough for me to want to conquer it. I think that the only way I can conquer it is to understand why it was what it was. I think that there must be a purpose, a divine lesson to learn, something to account for, to justify, the sheer volume of pain. So I stretch my brain, I study all the theologies and philosophies in psychology, and I walk around with my head hung in shame because the only possible explanation is that I was, as my pastor ever so gently explained, “dispensable.” That’s a very difficult pill to swallow, it’s a hard hid against the stomach that can knock the breath out of you. And it’s one instinct tells you to fight. Because if you don’t, your confidence is shattered into a bazillion pieces. If your confidence is shattered, if you don’t feel you’re a worthy human being, then what in the world does anything else matter? If you’re an ultimate failure, then who cares if you have a nice house or cool clothes, who cares if you’re a good teacher? People have always said things bout me that have astounded me. They’d give me cool compliments and I’d roll my eyes and think, “just because I make good grades doesn’t mean I’m smart. It means I know how to study. There’s a difference” or “just because I’m good with kids doesn’t mean I’m special. It just means I’m more comfortable about short people, that’s all” or “just because I can write doesn’t mean I’m talented. It ma mean I’m creative, but isn’t everybody? I mean, show me one person who doesn’t do something in a unique way.” I mailed my books to publishers not because I thought they were especially good but because I believed that if I tried enough times, I was bound to find someone who would take a chance.
Our self esteem is the core of who we are. And it’s formed, in large part, by our childhood. So it makes perfect sense why we struggle with the part of our lives that left us feeling alienated or weird. I don’t care about justice — I just want to believe I’m not worthless.
I’m at a state of perpetual chaos, incapable of true relaxation. Even when I’m alone, my mind is a vortex of checklists, things I’ve got to do to hopefully gain all the elements that were missing when I was young. People think it’s weird that I connect easily to men. People think it’s weird that I am capable of sharing a painful past with elderly men more than women. I don’t. My mother was fully present during my childhood. She sang to me. She read me Bible stories. She braided my hair. She worried forever about my birthdays and Christmases. I have never had a “mother” void. Perhaps, though, I did have a “father” void. And perhaps, subconsciously, that’s what I’m seeking. Perhaps I’ve felt that if I could recapture time, somehow, if I could bottle up enough warmth from male teachers, pastors and friends, then I’d finally feel as though that fatherly void was filled, and I could move on. Or maybe I’m just chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
The “message from God” said that, in order to find that elusive pot of gold, that vague and often undefined notion of peace, I had to preform an act, an “act of accepting…” In other words, I have to consciously and deliberately accept the fact that the void was created, and that it’s there to stay. The pain, when it comes, is real. All of the sad things are still true. But, in spite of it all, I have developed in a grown woman who feels compassion and who loves her children more than life; I understand values like not taking people for granted and remembering to give more than I take. Despite it all, I never turned to drugs, promiscuity or suicide as a means to cope—instead, I was able to hold on to my “belief in” other people, in humanity. I was able to believe in the good of others. I was able to maintain and nourish my belief in a good, merciful and loving God. And I was never unable to get out of bed. I no longer cower in the fact of opposition. I no longer hide behind a monster of a secret. The past has not changed—but I have. I may not be healed completely—but, even when I don’t feel like admitting it, the gutsy truth is that I do believe I’m a child of the living God and, as such, cannot be worthless—–no matter what messages I may have received and accepted as true throughout the years.
It’s amazing how affirmations act as a balm for wounds of years past. It’s amazing how consciously contradicting self-defeating thoughts and ideas can fill my heart with a calmness I don’t usually feel. I’m not superwoman but God embraces me in a warm, protecting, fatherly way. I can’t change the past. But I can live with it. And it’s through that reminder that my heart finds rest, and I catch sight of the shimmering gold at the end of the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen.