This has become one of my favourite mantras. *
It means this:
There are certain things you just can’t change.
There’s no point getting angry or being hurt.
Be at peace.
It is what it is.
It’s one of those paradoxical philosophies that seem at best laissez-faire and at worst fatalistic, and yet it actually manifests as something optimistic. It turns the obstacle into a springboard. It brings hope and restoration. Brian Louw says it brilliantly: ‘My goal is to help people change their perspective, not their problem.’
You can apply it to almost any less-than-ideal circumstance.
You’ve schlepped all the way to the shops and they don’t have the pine nuts you need for basil pesto, which you are super excited to concoct (true story). Oh well. It is what it is. Which means: you’ll just have to go somewhere else, or use something else, or not make the pesto, and although this is inconvenient and disappointing, there’s a strong chance that the sun will rise tomorrow and there will be oxygen to breathe and people to love and in the whole spectrum of eternity basil pesto is not such a big deal.
There’s someone in your life who seems intent on judging or rejecting or misunderstanding or annoying you, no matter how hard you try to make things right. It is what it is. Which means: this is your reality, in this relationship. Accept it. You can’t change the other person. As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). Forgive totally. Which means don’t keep talking about what they’ve done to you. Entrust yourself to the God who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). He is your protector and promoter. He hems you in behind and before – he’s got your back (Psalm 139:5). Honour the other person as much as you can, for the strengths you see in them. Let go of the rest. Decide to be kind. Choose to let love blanket the bristly bits (1 Peter 4:8). Don’t forget that you need others to spread that blanket over you, too, and kiss you on the forehead as you snore on the couch of oblivious imperfection.
Embracing that it is what it is frees us to move on unfettered from the sad sticky tangles of self-pity, resentment, jealousy and all the other junk that makes us ugly on the inside and eventually on the outside. It is what it is leaves the heart in that soft supple place of gentle but quietly hardcore Christ-likeness.
Of course all this also has a lot to do with dying to self, which is serious ego torture. Here’s how an anonymous Puritan said it:
We must understand what it means to die to self. When you are forgotten, neglected, or purposely set aside and you sting from the insult, but are happy at being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that is dying to self. When your good is evil spoken of, your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, and your opinions ridiculed, yet you refuse to let anger rise in your heart but take it all in patient, loving silence, that is dying to self. When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, irregularity, annoyance, and you endure waste, folly, extravagance, and spiritual insensibility as Jesus did, that is dying to self. When you are content with any circumstance, food, offering, clothing, climate, society, solicitude, and interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, record you own good works, seek after commendation from others, and are content with being unknown, that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper and you can honestly rejoice with him in spirit without feeling envy or questioning God, even though you have greater needs or more desperate circumstances, that is dying to self. When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly without rebellion or resentment rising up in your heart, that is dying to self.
* It is what it is is something that Derek Mocke says to the St Alban’s Form 4 (Grade 11) boys every year at their Leadership Camp.