Over the last month, I’ve experienced some interesting physical setbacks. Nothing alarming, but invasive enough to limit my activity. Shin splints plus a routine medical procedure have forced me to slow-down and scale back on my activity. I’ve had to cancel a few meetings, ask friends and family for help, and cut back on my running drastically. Not surprisingly, all of this has me thinking about limits.
One of my favorite TV characters is Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. On the show, Liz, a single, 40-something, New Yorker, works as the head writer for a sketch comedy on NBC. The show revolves around the challenges she deals with as a woman in a male-dominated workplace and her pursuit of personal and professional fulfillment. One of Liz’s iconic phrases is, “I can have it all!” Sadly (or really, hilariously), Liz never succeeds in having it all and her quest often results in some excellent self-depricating humor. Seeing Liz struggle with her own limits helps me laugh at my own frenetic and fruitless pursuit to have it all. I imagine Liz saying to me, “Hey buddy, it’s ok that you can’t have it all, I can’t either!”
But often, like Liz Lemon, even when I know that I can’t have it all, I can’t seem to escape the cycle of continuing to try. Maybe if I just work more, try harder, network better, and throw some prayer in there as an afterthought, I actually can have it all.
But this just isn’t true. At the end of the day I am very much human with very real limits. If I keep pushing and overdoing it, I will reach a limit and it will have real consequences.
Living Without Limits
In the book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton argues that living a life without limits will lead to burn-out- leaving us completely depleted, unable to respond to all of the commitments we make or even serve and love at a baseline level. Living a life without limits ultimately accomplishes nothing- it hurts us and it hurts those around us. She describes it this way:
When we refuse to live within limits, we are refusing to live with a basic reality of human existence. There is a finiteness to what I can do in this body. There is a finiteness to how many relationships I can engage in meaningfully at one time. There is a finiteness to time… There is a finiteness to my energy. There comes a time when I am tired. There comes a time when I am sick. There comes a time when I am injured. There are times that I am reminded that I am human- a finite being living in the presence of an infinite God. God is the infinite one. God is the one who can be all things to all people. God is the one who can be in all places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. (p. 111)
This is a hard things to realize. Admitting we have limits means admitting our weaknesses and inadequacies. We have to admit to ourselves and God that, alone, we can’t have it all, we can’t do it all, we can’t be all things. God is God and we are not. I love how a blog I recently read describes what happens when we admit our limits:
We are rescued from ourselves and from that question that haunts us, “What’s wrong with me?” Instead, we can ask, “Who’s within me?” The answer is an infinite God who knows no limits, who hung the stars in place, who hears our every prayer and directs our every step.
Learning Our Limits
Where do we go from here? Ruth Haley Barton stresses that, when faced with the truth of our limits, we need to ask God to help us know and be confident in the life stage, working area, location, etc… that he has placed us. What is the sphere of influence that God has given to us? Is it our careers? Our homes? Our neighborhoods? What would it look like to be content and freely serve within the boundaries God has called us to, rather than longing for other spheres of influence or wishing that our lives looked like someone else’s? Can we acknowledge that God has called us to a specific set of limitations, and that he, rather than we, gets to define the parameters?
Take some time this week and think about these questions:
- Where do I struggle with limitations in my life? Physical? Geographic? Age or life stage? What is God’s invitation here?
- Where has God uniquely called me to invest my time and talents? What would it look like to serve freely here instead of longing for something else?
- Am I serving in such a way that I am over-extended and close to burn-out? What is God’s invitation to me in the midst of burn-out?
- How can I ask for help and depend more on others in my life? How can I invite people to partner with me?
Later in the chapter, Ruth shares a prayer she committed to praying for a season. I invite you to pray this with me this week:
God, help us to live within the limits of what you called us to do. Help us to live within the limits of who we are. Help us give our very best in the field the we have been given to work and to trust you to enlarge our sphere of action if and when you know we are ready. Help us know the difference between being driven by grandiose visions and responding faithfully to the expansion of your work in and through us.