Right now I’m living through the hardest lesson of my life – acceptance.
Acceptance is particularly difficult for women, as our natures tend towards improving things and trying to make them better. Just accepting things as they are is extremely difficult – so ladies, this is directed especially at you. And if you’re anything like me, acceptance is a struggle.
Being of a choleric temperament, I’m a doer. I’m active. I’m impatient. I consider a moment which is not spent in achieving something – however small – a moment wasted (including time to relax, of course).
However, I’m in a period of life in which I very much want something I cannot seem to find – a loving, committed relationship. I’m not about to go into why this is the case, but for now, suffice it to say it is increasingly clear to me that being single right now is exactly what I am meant to be.
And if you are actively and consciously pursuing God’s will, putting Him first above every desire, yet you’re still single, then it’s likely this is where you’re meant to be as well.
On Sunday the priest said this during his homily in relation to praying for things we want:
When God makes us wait, He helps us appreciate His gifts all the more.
When God makes us wait and persevere in prayer, He is helping us to realise that we are completely dependent on Him.
Knowing this, of course, doesn’t necessarily make it easier. That’s where acceptance comes in.
For a while now, my psychologist has been working with me on acceptance. I feel extremely blessed to have had her help and, quite frankly, I don’t know where I would be today without her.
It’s taken a long time to be able to let go, to stop struggling with the direction my life has taken and simply just accept it. ‘Just accepting’ doesn’t mean putting your life on hold or that you stop doing things (which would be practically impossible for me anyway), it just means you take a step back from the mental struggle and cease the internal tug-of-war; to say “I’m going to stop trying to control everything and remind myself that it’s okay, God’s got this”.
Sometimes you’ll need to step away from the struggle dozens, or even hundreds, of times a day. But as you persist, it gradually becomes habitual.
It’s really just living out the old prayer adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
So how does one go about accepting what one cannot change?
Well, it starts with recognising the struggle, and identifying when you’re at war inside yourself. At those moments you can say something to your mind like, “Thank you for that thought, but I’m not doing that right now” and turn your attention to something interesting or grabbing, like a problem to solve or a TV show you’re watching (this may sound a bit hokey but it works).
Taking a few deep breaths also helps – exhale slowly out of your mouth until there’s no air left in your lungs and then allow them to fill up with oxygen naturally through your nostrils.
Prayer is an important step. I regularly pray for the grace of resignation to the Divine Will; also taking time to talk to God in mental prayer daily is extremely important and useful.
However, if you’re like me and have an active imagination, here’s a cheat I learned which not only helped me enormously in accepting my relationship status, but which made me much happier: stop thinking about relationships. Stop thinking about men, stop daydreaming about this or that person and stop dwelling on the relationship status of your friends and those around you.
I didn’t realise until quite recently just how much I was torturing myself by keeping my mind focussed on what I didn’t have. I wasn’t even aware that this is what I was doing – but when I saw other people getting engaged, or even couples holding hands in the street, my heart would sink with longing and sadness and my whole mood would be brought down.
I had no idea that, while these feelings were natural, I didn’t need to dwell in them. I slowly came to realise that this was a choice, and that if I changed my perspective, I no longer felt so bad.
For example, if I saw a happy, newly-married couple in a church, I would experience a stab of pain in my heart, a clenching of my stomach and a temptation would bubble up at the back of my mind to feel resentful, hard done by, forgotten by God, perhaps even envious. I was then presented with a choice (whether I was aware of it or not): I could either indulge in these feelings and wallow in my misery, or I could reject them. Most of my adult life I’ve done the former without even realising I had a choice!
But what I’ve learned is I don’t have to take someone else’s abundance as a reflection on my lack. Technically, their marriage has nothing to do with me. Hopefully they’ve followed God’s will just like I have. So instead, I now immediately reject the temptation as it arrives and find something positive to think, such as it’s actually a wonderful thing to see happy, young Christian couples getting married. This is what the world needs more of. Instead of taking misery in their abundance, I take joy.
Similarly with daydreams and fantasies – these are just a giant black hole of frustration and regret. Apart from the fact that spending time imagining what it would be like if I were married to this guy, or if that guy liked me, or if I’d stayed with so-and-so (ad infinitum) is a terrible waste of that precious commodity, it entrenches you in self-pity and a host of other negative feelings, even if it makes you feel better in the moment. It also removes you from the present and traps you in your own mind.
This habit is just about the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lonely and sad. We do it as a comforting technique but it just mires us even deeper in loneliness and sadness, as it serves as a continual reminder of why we’re unhappy – especially if we do it frequently.
So rather than exploring a romanticised what if thought experiment, try to distract yourself by doing something else. If it happens when you’re trying to go to sleep, stop yourself before you even start, say a prayer for guidance and strength, and turn your mind to something else entirely (preferably something that’s gripping enough to distract you). Or if it’s really bad, get up and read a book or watch some TV – anything to pull your mind away from the fantasy. Daydreaming and fantasising can be difficult habits to break, but like any habits, they will diminish the more you turn away from them.
A few weeks after practising the above, and just generally choosing not to feel sorry for myself, a remarkable thing happened – I was much happier! Because I was no longer reminding myself of what I wanted but didn’t have.
I stopped daydreaming, I stopped wallowing in my own sadness, I stopped nursing my negative feelings – I did none of these things. In short, I did nothing.
None of this was easy to stop doing, partly because it was instinctive, but partly because there is something strangely compelling in the excitement of living in a fantasy and thinking about men and romance, or even nursing your wounds. If you’re not living the thrill of entering a relationship, it seems like the next best thing – even if it is more painful in the long run.
I used to genuinely fear the thought of there being no excitement in my life – which was how I justified continuing to do all the things that were making my pain worse: daydreaming, thinking about how I would plan my wedding, indulging in my sadness and feelings of being abandoned and unheard by God.
But the excitement, the drama, the emotion – none of it is worth it. Trust me.
Moreover, none of it helps you accept the life you’re living; it just makes everything harder and more painful. Often the best route, and the more difficult one, is to do nothing. It’s to get out of your head and come back to earth, to stop nursing your hurt feelings, even if they are perfectly justified.
Of course, the title ‘how to do nothing’ is a little facetious, but this is how it will feel at first. You may need to take up some extra hobbies to fill your life, which also serve as distractions. Outside of work and blogging, I take dancing classes, I study a language, I’m learning to play guitar, I cook, I bake, I knit and I read. Also take time to call or see friends. Start a regular rosary or prayer group. Throw a board games night. Keep your mind busy and your life active with things you enjoy doing. Don’t wait to be married to live your life, start living it right now!
And as for finding love, do as the Saint says: pray, hope and don’t worry.