The summer I turned 10, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over my appearance.
What began a few years earlier as a smattering of freckles across the bridge of my nose soon melded into one solid brown patch that stretched from ear to ear. So I was thrilled to learn that my similarly speckled cousin knew of a surefire cure: lemon juice.
I spent weeks assailing my cheeks with lemon wedges, bent on bleaching that blotch right out of my skin. But this rubbing ritual proved a complete waste of time (not to mention a waste of lemons). My freckles didn’t budge.
Fortunately for my citrus-soaked complexion, I later noticed a different cousin using an eyebrow pencil to draw freckles on her otherwise porcelain skin.
The absurdity of the situation hit home. In that moment, I resolved to lay off the lemon treatment forever and accept the way God made me, freckles and all.
I haven’t given those brown blotches much thought since, except to marvel over how they’ve faded on their own as I’ve aged.
As momentous as those freckles seemed to my 10-year-old self, I realize some people must cope with far more serious physical challenges — incurable diseases, debilitating injuries, vision loss, infertility, bad genetics. Mental illness.
The prayer that hung on the wall of my grandmother’s bedroom is a fitting one for this discussion: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The key to navigating such trials successfully is to avoid the pitfalls of bitterness, resentment and self-pity.
Work to better your situation, certainly. Use every resource God provides. If you can change what ails you through therapy, surgery, diet, medication or some equally valid treatment plan, then by all means change it.
But for circumstances that can’t be altered, cast your cares upon Jesus, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).
A big part of finding peace is learning to accept certain unchangeables in our lives. The lesson I learned as a young girl with unwanted freckles applies to far weightier issues, as well.
If we can come to accept such things, embrace them. Perhaps even feeling a measure of gratitude for them (or, at least, for what God is teaching us through them), we will experience a deeper joy for living than we’ve ever known before.
These unchangeable areas include:
Parentage: You don’t get to pick your mom and dad (nor do you get to decide whether your parents divorce or stay married).
Genetics: Your DNA came pre-loaded, as well. The blueprint for your body was determined from the first moment of conception and cannot be altered.
Era in history: As much as you might long for “the good old days,” you must live in the historical time period you’ve been given.
Brain function: Although you do get to decide how you’ll use what you’ve been given, you don’t get to pick your IQ, your mental capacity or what learning style suits you best.
Ethnicity: You don’t get to choose your country of origin, the color of your skin or anything else about your ethnic background.
Birth order: You have no control over whether you have siblings and where you fall out among them.
Family history: You cannot change what your ancestors did in the past (or what your extended family does in the present).
Mistakes: Although you can certainly learn from mistakes — both those you make yourself and those that others have made that adversely affect you — you cannot go back and undo them.
Aging: Hair color, collagen creams and plastic surgeons may help mask the signs of aging, but there is no denying the fact that we’re all growing older. Making peace with that fact now may spare you a few worry lines in the future.
Mortality: Our days are numbered. Accepting our own mortality reminds us to use wisely the time God has given us on this earth.
All these areas together combine to make us the unique individuals we are. Psalm 139 paints a beautiful picture of the care with which God made each one of us: “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”
Isn’t that reassuring? God had a purpose for designing you exactly as He did. But until you’re able to accept His design, you’ll have a hard time discovering His purpose.
Gratitude. Acceptance. Submission.
These attitudes prepare our hearts to fulfill God’s plan for our lives. But perfect understanding of His purpose and design will likely not come this side of heaven. He may grant us glimpses, but we are limited in our ability to appreciate the full scope of God’s intentions toward us.
Still, we can be confident that He will “work all things together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Jennifer Flanders still identifies as a freckled redhead, though the pigmentation in both her skin and her hair have faded dramatically as she’s grown older. Today’s column is adapted from material taught at the Institute of Basic Life Principles and a related chapter in her book, “Balance: The Art of Minding What Matters Most.” http://bit.ly/BalanceWhatMatters