The Ponder Effect | Am I taking what is given?
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Am I taking what is given?

Last week, we were pondering transformation. This week, we are pondering acceptance. 

In early March, before the call to hibernation, I attended a retreat at St. Mary’s in Sewanee. The weekend, hosted by the One River Wisdom School, offered a tapestry of study, prayer, discussion, silence, meditation, qigong, and song. There were many takeaways from my time on the mountain (not the least of which was don’t wait 14 years of marriage and 11 years of motherhood to take a solo retreat), but one teaching stood out to me the most: a simple 4-word phrase that was shared during morning qigong. (I had never tried qigong, by the way, and it was probably my favorite mindfulness practice of the entire weekend.) We were in a simple posture with knees bent and palms open, as if gathering alms, and our teacher said simply: “Take what is given.”

Take what is given. Not at the head level but at the heart level, those words registered as a truth I needed to hear. And to heed.

At first, this teaching–Take what is given–had a beguiling lightness to it; at least it did in the mouth of our ever calm, ever wise instructor, Gordon Peerman. It was an invitation to receive the many blessings of this life with a gentle and grateful heart. I can do that, I thought, I can accept that invitation. Sign me up. 

Except, well, I have control issues. I’m a 1 on the Enneagram, which means that I’m a Perfectionist though I prefer the kinder term, “Reformer.” Whatever the descriptor, the truth is I like things to be a certain way: aka just right. Liking things to be a certain way: aka just right, is a form of control. Daily I catch myself trying to control things, people, experiences, and outcomes. Daily I have to re-learn the importance of relinquishing control and taking what is given. Perhaps you do, too? Taking what is given, even when what is given is good, proves to be more challenging than one would think. 

What, then, if what you’re given is a global pandemic? What if you’re given four walls and a pair of latex gloves? What if you’re given images of stretchers? 

As is so often the case, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for when I said yes in my heart to that wisdom teaching. I didn’t know that commiting to accept what is given would require accepting quarantine, disease, financial collapse, and widespread death the very next week! That wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Though I should have known. Life is nasty and cruel and heartbreaking. It proves itself to be so all the time. True acceptance means taking it all: the sublime and the suffering. That’s the catch and the whole point. 

I am doing my best to take what is given. Day by day, hour by hour. How about you? A friend of mine–a wise friend and school educator–has made “radical acceptance” her mantra during this time of radical upheaval. The question now and always is, do we resist or relinquish? Refuse to give in or take what is given? Palms balled up or palms held open?

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2 Ponderings
  • Anonymous

    April 26, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    I love everything you said…thanks for sharing your experience with us. Here are my thoughts along those same line “Christ gave Himself for us…take what is given.”

  • Anonymous

    May 1, 2020 at 10:52 am

    I too am a control freak. Just a kind of quiet one. For years I did a pretty good job of making things be what I envisioned. Thinking I had done it. Then some things came along that I couldn’t make happen the way I thought they should. That cracked open the door of acceptance. But barely.
    During this quarantine my quiet time has become more of reading meditations and poetry, really listening to the words of my worship service and the sermons. Less time of reading the Bible, oddly, and a gradually releasing of my constant prayers of petition and intercession. Thinking that I had to hold them up before God every day or my prayers wouldn’t be answered, and to be truthful avoiding the sitting quietly type prayer. I have never been very good at centering prayer or meditation, and I am still not. But in my quiet time during this time of slowing down I am coming to an awakening and acceptance of “not my will but Thine.” I have come to understand that I really don’t have much control at all. And my idea of what’s best may not be. So yes, I am ready to accept what I am given. Let’s hope I can do it gracefully, and not kicking and screaming.