According to a brief search on Google, the phrase come to terms originated in the early 1700s and referred to the agreement between a landlord and tenant regarding repairs. It wasn’t until much later that it came to mean accepting something difficult or unpleasant. When we use it nowadays, we typically mean to face reality…to accept the truth of a situation…to face the facts.
I believe that coming to terms is a necessary and ongoing part of life and to continue to resist it actually creates more difficult and more unpleasant circumstances.
We spend a lot of time and energy not coming to terms. M. Scott Peck writes about this in his well-known book The Road Less Traveled: “Human beings are poor examiners, subject to superstition, bias, prejudice, and a profound tendency to see what they want to see rather than what is really there.”
We See What We Want to See
Our tendency to see what we want to see then come to terms with reality is the plot of a lot of good stories. Think about some of our favorite fairy tales and fables and we’ll find a coming to terms story. More recent popular movies and docuseries, too.
We meet the characters and find out about their problems. They believe there is no problem or that the problem is one thing, but it’s really another. They can’t see or won’t accept the reality of the situation and the drama unfolds. As the plot develops, the characters begin to see the real issue, but resist it. Over time they gradually accept the situation, but it’s a struggle between resistance and acceptance until finally…they come to terms.
And this is the story of our lives.
It Can Make Us Stronger
I’ve experienced a recent coming to terms story. I did not want to see reality. I wasn’t strong enough to face it, so avoiding it was a kind of grace. Opportunities to accept the situation showed themselves over and over, until I no longer resisted and I came to terms with it. Peace over the situation rules in my heart since.
Jesus meant it when he said, “The truth will set you free.”
For a time our resisting the terms may strengthen us, but when we refuse to eventually come to terms, it can destroy us. A harmful resistance to coming to terms is when we refuse to deal with or face our past or we’re unwilling to learn from others or receive feedback. Avoidance may look like staying in a familiar but unhealthy situation because we don’t want to deal with the discomfort of change, or the loss of relationship. At that point, we might be willfully blind.
The Bible Tells Me So
The journey of the Israelites is a coming to terms story from the beginning. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t and reread it if you have. It never gets old. It starts in Genesis and continues through…Revelation.
God made promises and didn’t keep them the way the people expected.
When the Hebrews were freed from Egyptian slavery, they didn’t expect to cross the Red Sea. The Promised Land, though promised, had to be fought for. The people didn’t trust God and it caused a big ordeal and landed the Israelites in the desert for 40 years. Then there was manna from heaven, lots of complaining, and the Israelites said they were better off in Egypt. There are judges, then kings – really bad ones, and a few good ones. Wars, divisions, and captivity again.
It was a mess, and over and over again the Israelites struggled to come to terms with reality. When they did – they surrendered their ideas, their expectations, and their ways. They trusted God.
Isn’t that what we do when we come to terms? We finally give up control or the illusion of control. We surrender our expectations of how things should be. We take ownership of our mistakes and responsibility for our choices and lives.
Learning to trust God is how we come to terms with our lives, and like anything else we learn, it’s progressive. One lesson builds on another. We make mistakes along the way. We forget what we learned. Then we get it. We say “God, You see me and You love me. You know what I need more than I do. Here I am. Help me see what I need to see. I know You’re here with me and You will not leave me.”
We can come to terms because God made the terms. He didn’t promise easy terms. Jesus said “In this life, you will have trouble.” God promised His Presence. He is with us. He is a good and patient Father as we live our coming to terms stories.
Photo credit: Mark Booth