Nothing Is for Nothing
Accepting Loss and Finding Peace
Article by, Vaneetha Rendall Risner, Author, Writer
I brace myself as I walk into the house and hold the door frame. It’s a tiny step, if you could even call it that, but I can’t do it without help anymore. I almost lose my balance. My husband steadies me. Last month it wasn’t a problem, but now it is.
When I get into the house, I plop down into a chair in frustration. I sigh heavily. Losses are constant nowadays, and I scarcely remember doing things that were effortless before my post-polio diagnosis. Painting into the night. Making a new gourmet meal that everyone loved. Going for walks and enjoying the outdoors with friends. None of that is part of my life anymore.
Some days those things don’t bother me, but others, like today, it’s easier to dwell on what I’ve lost. The ‘can’t do anymores’ keep stacking up, and I wonder how I will get used to this life of continual loss. I know some people do, and sometimes with incredible grace. I want to be one of those people who accept everything easily, never seeming to question what’s given or taken away, grateful for everything they have.
As I grieved the life I used to have, I silently asked, “Lord, show me what to do with this. I don’t want to let this frustration overwhelm me. I want peace.” Immediately, the familiar words came to mind: “in acceptance lies peace.”
Ways to Forfeit Peace
The four words are from a poem by Amy Carmichael entitled “In Acceptance Lieth Peace,” which she wrote after a broken leg left her bedridden, and in great pain, for the rest of her life. In the poem, Carmichael detailed the futile ways we often deal with loss.
The first approach is to avoid any reminders of the past, trying to forget the hurt and move on. The second is to stay so busy that there’s no time to think about anything else. The third is denial, putting up a facade and pretending that there never was any pain. The fourth is to grimly resign ourselves to a life of unceasing misery. I wonder which of those four feels most familiar for you. The fifth and final approach is to accept this new way of living, knowing that God will walk us through.
Though the first four options sound depressing, I confess I have tried them all. While they promised relief from the pain, they left me numb, strangling any hope for healing and joy. Life was reduced to mere existence as I plodded along from day to day, hoping the dull ache would go away.
But acceptance is different. It stops the turmoil, and leads to peace. This peace can only be found in Christ, in surrendering to his will, in trusting that every experience is part of his plan. He keeps us in perfect peace when we trust him and focus our minds on him (Isaiah 26:3).
Elisabeth Elliot would agree. In a letter to her parents shortly after her husband Jim was murdered in 1956, she wrote,
I know you are all wondering how I am getting along. I can only say that the peace I have literally passes all possible understanding. . . . “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and song.” I have learned, I believe, the lesson which Amy Carmichael speaks of in her poem — “In acceptance lieth peace.” How true. I accept, gratefully, from the hand of God, this experience.
Gratefully accepting everything from God’s hand, including losing your husband, makes no sense apart from Christ. But because of her faith in a sovereign God, Elliot was able to experience God’s peace in tragedy. And almost fifty years later, she wrote,
God included the hardships of my life in his original plan. Nothing takes him by surprise. Nothing is for nothing. His plan is to make me holy, and hardship is indispensable for that as long as I live in this hard old world. All I have to do is accept it. (Be Still My Soul, 32)
All I have to do is accept it. It sounds simple. And in many ways, it is. But this acceptance is not fatalistic surrender. The kind of acceptance that leads to peace requires faith and trust in God. It involves looking at life through the eyes of faith, faith in an all-powerful, extravagantly loving, and incomprehensibly wise God who is engineering every detail of my life.
Our powerful, loving, and wise God doesn’t make mistakes. So if he has allowed something into my life, it is the very best thing for me, all things considered. It will maximize my joy and deepen my faith. One day in heaven I will see how everything that God brought into my life was love.
Dailiness of Loss
While I am convinced of God’s love and purpose in my pain, I must repeatedly remind myself of these truths. Doubt and discouragement creep in as I struggle with the dailiness of loss and pain, with no apparent reprieve.
At the beginning of any trial, I often feel buoyed by God’s Spirit, able to face the struggle ahead courageously. But after a while, I grow weary and impatient. I forget that the Lord is in my suffering and will walk with me through it. I must deliberately turn to God and ask him to help me — to accept the situation, to know his presence in it, and to have strength to endure it. In essence, to trust him.
Only then can I truly find peace — a peace beyond understanding that guards my heart and mind in Christ (Philippians 4:7), that keeps me from fear (John 14:27), that transcends the troubles of the world (John 16:33). That is a lasting peace.
In All My Circumstances
Like many others, I have felt weary during this pandemic, wondering how long it will last. I am anxious for it to end and have this all-encompassing cloud lifted, so that I can resume life as it was before. I must constantly remind myself of the beauty and peace in joyful acceptance. These circumstances are not random or out of God’s control, but are all part of a loving Savior’s design. He is in all my circumstances and is using them to change me into the likeness of Christ.
My husband and I went out to the front porch to talk and watch the sunset. As I walked through the doorway again, I was grateful. Looking around, I asked God to give me eyes of faith. I was reminded of all that God has done through my pain. Although I may always miss what I have lost, I do not long to have that life back. God is in my present life, and it is only here, in today’s circumstances, that I can meet him.
I am embracing this life God has given me, deeply aware that in acceptance lies peace. In this joyful acceptance I find the Savior himself, who will one day transform my enduring suffering into my eternal joy.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.