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A Biblical Look at Radical Acceptance: What is it?

Cathi S.

Radical Acceptance is a term used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy that was developed by Marcia Linehan. The term refers to the ability to completely accept a situation exactly as it is in the moment without trying to change it. The idea behind the concept is to help people learn to let go of trying to control, manipulate and/or direct the outcome of a situation or a relationship. By trying to control a situation, we create more stress and unhappiness for ourselves in the long run because we can only control ourselves. It’s hard to accept that we cannot control all circumstances and all relationships all the time and we keep trying despite the reality that we cannot.

 Radical Acceptance is also a concept that comes from a Mindfulness perspective. It is actually an Eastern philosophy term. According to “Psychology Today”, Mindfulness is defined as “ a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” If we are living in the present and open to experiencing all that the “present” has to offer, then we are unable to control, manipulate or direct people and situations to our liking. We allow others to be in control of themselves and experience their own consequences in their journey in life.  

 In reality, we make decisions on a daily basis. We make choices about what we will wear, limits to set with our children, job choices, etc. The idea of Radical Acceptance is not a hopeless acceptance of whatever happens, happens. It’s not about giving up the ability to make choices. Radical Acceptance means we stop trying to fit a square peg is a round hole because we come to accept that the square peg only fits in a square hole. We stop trying to make things work the way we want them to work to avoid any negative situations despite the reality that sometimes we all experience difficulties.  It’s unavoidable and not necessarily hopeless.

 As believers in Christ, how does an Eastern philosophy term relate to us?  In Psalm 46:10, the writer states, “Be still and know that I am God.”  The psalmist makes this statement after reminding the audience that in the midst of all the storms and battles, God is mighty and powerful enough to be a safe haven and protection against harm.  The psalmist does not say that the audience will not see the storms and will not experience the difficulty of the battle.  The message is that in the midst of that experience, God will make sure we are victorious.  But, we must be still and believe.  Being still means that our entire trust and acceptance of any outcome is in the hands of God, who is our “Abba, Father.”  Our Father in heaven who wants good things for us and “knows the thoughts (He) has for us … thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give (us) a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.   This verse in Jeremiah was a promise given to God’s children who were held captive in foreign and hostile land.  The promise was that He had good things planned for them and to remind them that He had not forgotten them.  His children were not spared the difficulties, but in the midst of their “storm” He gave them a promise that He later fulfilled.

 Trials are neither good nor bad.  They are a part of life.  Period.  What if we begin to look at the difficulties we experience as an opportunity for God to bring about more of the Life of His Son in us and grow into becoming the “light in the darkness” He created us to be?  That would mean we would need to accept that none of us is spared from difficulties, none of us is perfect, that we all have flaws and none of us controls all the outcomes in life.  Accepting our flaws, allows us the freedom to stop striving to be perfect – an impossible task to say the least. It doesn’t mean we use our flaws as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for our behavior and avoid allowing God to change us.  It means being able to be free from unrealistic expectations of myself, unrealistic expectations we have of others and unrealistic expectations of life. If we can radically accept that we are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world making the best decisions we can make at the time we make them and believing that God is really who He says He is, then our outlook about our lives and situations can take on new meaning. We take the focus off of others and place it on ourselves in order to allow God to use the current difficulty as a life lesson to learn that will benefit us.  If we can radically accept that we do not have control of the universe, trust that our Father in heaven does have control of the universe and wants only good things for us, then we can step back and look at what we are being called to do in order to find peace in the present.  Who of us does not want peace?  It begins with Radical Acceptance and “letting go.”  Trusting and believing with the God kind of faith that He will “work all things together for good for those who love the Lord.”  Romans 8:28.

For more information on this topic, please take a look at this great blog: radical acceptance

Let me know what you think!

Cathi is the founder, Executive Director and CEO of Phoenix Family Counseling in Gainsville, VA. She has been a member of NACSW since 2008.

6 thoughts on “A Biblical Look at Radical Acceptance: What is it?

  1. The part of this blog entry that really resonated with me is the sentence: "What if we begin to look at the difficulties we experience as an opportunity for God to bring about more of the Life of His Son in us?" Robert Roberts in his "Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues" talks about the development of Christian character and virtue enabling us to begin to see what happens in the world and in our lives differently than we might see them otherwise. He uses as an example the way the apostles were able to see being beaten and jailed as an occasion for rejoicing and experiencing joy (rather than as a cause for complaining and experiencing sorry or anger) because the apostles felt it was an honor to be treated the same way their Lord had been treated, and that this treatment they were receiving was an indication that they were being faithful to their call to follow Jesus. So for them, they were able to see circumstances of being threatened and beaten were an occasion for joy. Part of our call as Christians is to begin to develop into the kind of people who see what happens to us and in our world from a perspective acutely shaped and influenced by our gratefulness for the love God has shown us, and our call to love others with that same love.

  2. Thanks for this post! Encountering DBT/mindfulness in my training really challenged and stretched me to integrate my faith and practice in the work place. I have some posts on my blog when I wrestled through these questions:

    In this post I use God's love as an example of dialectics and radical acceptance in action. Please take a look and let me know!

  3. I'm quite late to the discussion, but just wanted to say thanks for posting this…You've provided some great leads for me as I look further into the connections between Christianity and radical acceptance.

  4. Dealing with PTSD, depression and anxiety and a crap ton of therapy trying to explain what Radical Acceptance is, 2 Sam 12:16-35 I believe is a better example of what Radical Acceptance is.

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