Our Hitch Hikers Guide To Kingdom Living continues…
Twelve years ago I experienced one of my darkest nights ever. Just a day earlier I had visited the Mt. Sinai Liver Transplant Clinic in New York City for my one-year post-operation check-up. The doctors were delighted and my wife and I were sky high! My recovery had been remarkable. I had a new lease on life. After a long ordeal, for the first time in years I was feeling on top of the world! Everyone was celebrating. Following the examination we flew out to Frankfurt where I was scheduled to do some leadership training.
Suddenly it all turned grim. Right in the middle of my first session we got word from the hospital that I had to get back to the hospital immediately. The tests I had taken earlier that day revealed that in spite of how I was feeling, my body was subbing my new liver. I was in rejection, which meant I was far from home in life threatening shape! The shock gave way to suffocating despondency. Suddenly my bright future was uncertain. What was going to happen to me? That became the longest night of my life.
I lay there trying to figure a way out. But there was none. After a few hours I realized that I couldn’t bargain, scheme or muscle my way through this. The matter was out of my hands. I had no choice. I would have to let go and trust God. And as I almost halfheartedly did so a strange thing began to happen. Given the circumstances, you might say an illogical, irrational sort of peace calmed me and held me together until I got to the hospital and the doctors were able to avert the danger and correct the problem.
This is an example of something that I now see is another key to handling adversity that we inevitably run into along the way of our kingdom journey. It’s the practice of a kind of quiet acceptance or as Eugene Peterson calls it, acquired passivity. I know, I know, this sounds cowardly, like giving up and surrendering. But really isn’t. It’s a habit of the heart that will help you respond to hardship and adversity in more creative and useful ways.
What is acquired passivity? The word “passivity” is off-putting for most of us. It makes us think of weakness, spinelessness, lacking guts, acceptance of defeat. That’s why acquired passivity is so hard for most of us to embrace. But when adversity hits – the kind that blindsides us and threatens to knock us out; the kind we can’t muscle our way through – the death of a loved one, life-threatening illness, the breakup of a marriage – we often have no other choice. It’s also acquired. That means it doesn’t come natural to us. With the help of the Spirit it’s a learned behavior that involves our will. A decision we make. It’s something we participate in that feels like active trust.
When this kind of adversity hits there’s only one thing we control and that’s our response to it. The rest we have to put into God’s hands. I’ve found this to be the difference between coping or falling apart. Getting angry, wallowing in self-pity, blaming others, or becoming depressed are all fairly standard responses to adversity but whether or not these reactions are within your rights, they won’t solve anything and they risk turning you bitter and leaving you feeling helpless.
Quiet acceptance on the other hand, is when I get out of my “how will I fix this” mode and the realization that I don’t have a choice, that it’s beyond my control, that I can’t fix it, that its not my decision to make, kicks in. It’s the whisper of God saying, “Trust me… Let me”. It’s the quiet acceptance in Job’s declaration, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” It’s Mary responding to the angel’s announcement of her pregnancy with, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.” And it’s most clearly displayed in Jesus as he prays in the garden, “Not my will but yours…”
I now let adversity drive me to prayer rather than to panic or stubborn self-reliance. Prayer eventually turns into acceptance that says, “Father I’ll trust you… your will be done”. This in turn opens the door to the grace I need and the effect is peace… peace in the middle of a storm… the peace that held me together that long dark night of uncertainty in Germany.