I don’t know about you, but I pretty much despise limitations, and I find few things as motivating as the words you can’t do that. Not in the you shouldn’t do that sense, but in the you’re not capable sense. Heck, a large motivating factor in me pursuing and being accepted to medical school was the scathing, cynical words of my snarky Organic Chemistry professor when he looked right at me and snarled “you can’t get into medical school.”
Well, I showed him!
I also spent a year of my life being miserable by trying to fit a square peg (me) into a round hole (medical school) … but, I did meet my husband there, so I’m going to go ahead and call that one a win. Thank goodness that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). He can draw blessings out of our decisions, even the ones made from less-than-perfect motivations.
Up until now, I have fortunately not suffered from many physical or health limitations, but I have been plagued by debilitating migraine headaches since youth. I wish I would “outgrow” this limit, but no such luck. Perhaps they’re even worsening as time passes … whatever the case, they stink. The pain knocks me off my feet and renders me incapable of doing anything but lying on the couch when I can and keeping my children alive the rest of the time. As a mother, I’m finding these headaches far more difficult to bear, since I’m not able to simply skip class or use a sick day at work. Moms are “on” 24/7—whether in pain or not!
Such physical limitations fly in the face of my never-ending lists of goals and “to do’s.” I don’t realize the enormity of the pressure I put on myself to perform these tasks until I’m suddenly knocked out of the game. The feelings of failure and inadequacy that accompany being sidelined surprise me each time—and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in this! Women especially seem prone to wearing the “I must do it all” superwoman cape … so it’s quite off-putting when we come face to face with our limits and realize we actually cannot do it all.
I’m slowly seeing, however, that there are important things to be learned in the midst of our limits. And these things we wish didn’t hold us back or slow us down can actually become excellent character-shaping tools, forcing us to be still, and know that He is God (see Psalm 46:10).
I’m not exactly fond of Ms. Limits, but she’s teaching me a lot these days. And if you ever find yourself in the same boat, I hope the following reminders will encourage you today!
We Are Not in Control
I know what you’re likely thinking: duh!! But in all truth, we need to be reminded of this (or at least I do!). Our sin nature is geared toward control, and our world constantly bombards us with messages poised to capitalize on this nature. Over and again, we are told to take charge of our lives—to go out there and make it happen, giving us the illusion that everything rests on our own shoulders.
It is true that God has given us a free will of our own, and we are responsible for being obedient to His call in our lives (see Romans 14:12). But we do not hold ultimate control over the events that shape us. Isaiah 40:22 provides a beautiful reminder of how big God is:
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in (NIV).
As we go about our day-to-day tasks, the limits we encounter can become a great reminder of how big God is, and how “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” as the beloved children’s song goes.
As much as we may think we want ultimate control, true peace is found in embracing the end of ourselves. The same God who holds the earth in His Hands also holds us in His Hands—giving strength and renewal to our weary human souls (see Isaiah 40:29-31). There’s no better place we could be!
Our Time is Not Our Own
Similarly, the message of the world tempts us to forget that our time is not ours alone. Like any other resource (money, talent, etc.), time is a gift from the Lord. And like any other resource, we should be asking Him how He wants us to use our time. I know I’m guilty of hoarding my time and thinking of it as mine to use however I see fit … but when I’m face-to-face with my weakness—as I was just this week due to a monster migraine—I’m convicted that perhaps God has other plans for my time.
Proverbs 19:21 says, Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (NIV). Through my limits, God is teaching me to come before Him and humbly release the iron grip I so often keep on my time; to lay down the plans in my own heart in exchange for His plans. Sometimes He has to pry my rigid fingers off, but when I finally do let go, I find the peace that comes from living in God’s will for my life, not my own.
I love the reminder James gives us in response to all the grand plans we make for ourselves:
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15 NIV).
Perhaps he could have phrased it a little more kindly, but the truth remains—this day could be our very last day on earth! I can’t think of a better way to spend our time than by asking God, the creator and giver of all time, what He would have us do with it.
God’s Love and Strength Are Limitless
Our human, fallen selves long to be limitless on this earth, yet our limits can teach us one of the most important lessons of all by bringing us face-to-face with the only One whose love, grace, and resources are truly limitless. His very being is without limits.
One of the best side effects of my migraines is how they drive me to the feet of Jesus in utter dependence on Him for all my strength, love, and endurance. I am full of limits—but I serve a God who is not. When I embrace this truth, I find a closeness with Him that carries me through each and every difficult, barely-surviving kind of day. I am restored and revived, even in the midst of pain.
I am beginning to truly understand Paul’s words when he said, For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:10). Our limits bring us to the end of ourselves, and if we’ll grant them the latitude to teach, we can begin learning just how safe and strong we are when held in the limitless Hands of our Father.