Many psychologists teach their patients a skills-building approach called dialectical behavior therapy. The goal is to turn negative thoughts, the kind that can lead to suicide or other self-destructive action, into positive habits. Then when a situation gets challenging, the patient can summon a skill or two and avoid figuratively falling off a cliff — or, literally, something worse.
Many of the skills might seem like common sense to people who aren’t burdened by, for instance, mental illness or addiction. Those of us who live with those realities have to work at it. Every day. Often at the most basic levels.
For me, that means beginning every day by routinely embracing the skill called “Radical Acceptance.”
I’m far from alone in this. People with many physical illnesses will understand. If you have cancer or diabetes or heart disease, you have to always be cognizant of what that means for your life. It’s not that you necessarily are limited in what you can do, but you have to make time for whatever treatments you need or precautions you have to take.
If you have chronic depression, if you don’t have much money in your bank account after paying bills, if you get easily overheated, if you were born without two arms or had a leg amputated after an accident …
Whatever the reality of your life is, you have to accept that before moving ahead. And it has to be complete acceptance. Exhaustive. Profound. Yes, you obviously can climb any mountain. The reality doesn’t have to be a handicap. But to live joyfully, radical acceptance has to be the first step.
That applies to the spiritual life as well.
I often have trouble applying radical acceptance in that respect. I’m not the only one. I once heard Rich Mullins, the late Christian singer-songwriter, say this during one of his concerts:
“There are many things in the Christian faith that are hard to get a handle on, and one of the things that I struggle the hardest with is believing that God really loves me. It’s too good to believe, but it’s true, whether I can believe it or not. The fact is, I think if you took the whole Bible and you shook it around and melted it down and said, ‘What is the essence of what this whole thing is saying,’ I think it would just be that God loves you very much. That God, in fact, is crazy about you.”
Or as I heard a priest put it in a recent homily, God wants you to know that “You are dear. You are precious. You are darling.”
That’s what I’m talking about.
That’s what we all, as Catholics, should be talking about.
We hear more and more about evangelization in our Church. The motivation seems to come from our increasingly empty pews on Sundays. The message comes across as: “People used to be here. They’ve gone somewhere. We need to find them, evangelize them and get them to come back to Mass on Sunday.”
The thing is, we’re all tasked with evangelizing by our very nature as Christians, whether that involves people who used to be in the pews or those who have never set foot inside a church. Don’t let that word intimidate you, though. It can mean to convert someone; you don’t have to do that. It can mean to preach; you don’t have to do that.
You don’t need a background in apologetics. You don’t need to teach people about the Trinity or Marian doctrine, you need not convince them of papal infallibility or sway them to agree with Church teaching on even one subject. They can tackle that in due time.
Instead, to evangelize means to simply promote something enthusiastically. In ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, evangelize means to bring good news or glad tidings. There is no better news to share than this: “You are dear to God. You are darling to God. God loves you. Actually, God is crazy about you!”
How can we not radically accept that? Too good to believe, perhaps, but too good to not share.
Eisenbath is parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.