Limitations

What am I supposed to do?

As you read that question, I suppose an assortment of scenarios and memories come to mind when you’ve asked it in the past:

  • When you’ve already asked someone to repeat a statement you couldn’t hear the first time, but you still couldn’t hear when he tried again.
  • When you’re trying to navigate an especially difficult intersection of a massive foreign city.
  • When your spouse mistreats or even abuses you, and you don’t know the right way forward.

What am I supposed to do? It is a question that crops up amid the mundane as well as the momentous. That it is asked at all indicates a degree of concern and interest – it isn’t posed by sluggards or know-it-alls. Inherent in the question is a confession of limits and constraints in knowledge, skill, or understanding.

In adolescence I always thought that growing up and getting older would involve steady growth in certainty and assuredness. NOPE! Instead I’ve found myself scraping along the guardrails of my limits more than ever and asking that nagging, humiliating question seemingly every day:

  • I desperately desire to be present, attentive, and passionate in my roles of husband, father, pastor, and friend. And yet there are countless moments when the inherent responsibilities of these roles enter into competition. In my finite time, energy, and willpower, something’s got to give.
  • I want to handle difficult pastoral situations in a biblically faithful, wise, courageous, and gracious manner. But circumstances come along where the truth is evasive, the path forward is unclear, and hope of a God-honoring resolution is faint.
  • I love the people of our church family fiercely and want to serve them, help them, and lead them well. But when tragedy strikes and heartache is overwhelming, the pain is often beyond what I am able to comfort, even with biblical truth.

I’m not alone in the helpless sensation when establishing firm footing in life is like trying to lay a foundation in a mudslide. Perhaps you’re a mother of three who has been at a loss ever since your children have outnumbered your arms. Maybe you’re a graduate student working as a bartender to minimize your debt, trying to stay awake during the first class of the morning after closing shop the previous night. Or you might be a grief counselor who is finding it impossible to cope with the loss of your own best friend. We’re all in over our heads, beyond our pay grade, and out of our league (limitation-related clichés are so numerous precisely because it is a universal experience).

It is unsettling and disconcerting to run headlong into our limits. So here are a few reminders I try to come back to whenever I’m feeling bewildered and overwhelmed:

Our Limits are a Purposeful Design

Harkening all the way back to an ancient skyscraper in Babel, humankind has bristled at the notion of our limitations, and our corresponding need for God. We can reach the heavens with our own innovation, intuition, and cooperation – the Lord’s word, will, and way are repressive hindrances to our free expression and hold us back from our otherwise limitless potential.

Or so the thinking goes.

Christian folks used to talk a lot more about the Creator/Creature distinction. They thought often on the fact that God is higher, greater, wiser, and stronger than us. This distinction was true before the downfall of humanity and will continue to be true after our glorification. God is God, and we are not. We mustn’t forget that we started from a pile of dust. Our eternal and unchanging God, of His own will, breathed life into dirt and created humanity. We’re totally dependent upon Him in every way and for everything. So when we’re too tired, too hungry, or too uninformed to adequately handle our circumstances, it is a visceral reminder of this purposeful distinction – one that need not bring us to despair, but can drive us to greater worship and reliance on our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.

Our Limits Should be Pushed

There are times when we need to humbly accept our limitations. But there are also occasions when we must be selfless enough to push them. A brand new mother genuinely needs more uninterrupted sleep than she is getting, but she still must tend to the cries of her infant. I may feel like I just need a night at home watching a movie, but if someone from the church calls with a heavy spiritual burden I must make that my priority.

Scripture and church history are teeming with examples of God placing people in situations that directly confront their limitations – Abraham being told to sacrifice his long-awaited promised child, Moses given the task of facing the world’s superpower despite a speech impediment, Mary carrying the Son of God in pregnancy as an unwed teenager, among many others. While God desires humility and realism from His people in regard to our limitations, He also places a holy ambition in us to build great and lasting things for the glory of His name – the only way to do that is to press hard against our limits and to trust Him with the results.

Cultures, rock bands, fashion trends, kings, and viral youtube videos all rise and fall. Brilliant minds suffer amnesia. Gorgeous bodies wrinkle, sag, and eventually decay. World-class athletes succumb to the undefeated march of time. But there is One whose rule and reign never falters or fails – the Lord, who is the exclusive limitless Potentate who transcends time, space, physics, and metaphysics.

You will die.

So will I.

But the Lord and His word endure forever.

Whatever your limitations are, God does not share them. There are some (read: many) things you do not know, but He knows all things eternally, actual or possible. There are some (read: many) places you can’t go, but He is everywhere present all the time. There are some (you get the point) tasks you can’t handle, but He is gloriously omnipotent. May your limits serve to increase your faith.


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