Sometimes life reminds us of our limits.
I had a humorous encounter with my limits years ago when a dear friend/mentor asked me for a favor. This woman had invested in my life in such meaningful ways I’d run through a wall for her if I could, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity.
My assignment was simple: drive her to the hospital for a minor surgery, listen to post-op care instructions from the nurse, and drive her back home.
And here’s how things went south:
7:30am: Surgery begins. I take a few sips of horrific waiting room coffee, read the newspaper, and watch the Today Show.
8:15am: Surgery successful! I head to post-op room to greet patient and listen to post-op instructions.
8:20am: As I walk through post-op room, I am hit with the anti-septic, sterile hospital smell.
8:22am: I greet dear friend and suddenly realize I didn’t anticipate seeing stitches and blood when agreeing to the favor. As one with an unusually queasy disposition, I begin to get a little antsy.
8:24am: With increased resolve, I listen to nurse describe the surgery, put on a bright, encouraging face for patient, and seek to ignore the slight nausea in my stomach.
8:28ish: Resolve weakens, clamminess begins, nausea increases.
8:30ish: I note to the nurse I don’t feel well and proceed to stick my head between my knees. I mumble, “I’m going down,” and, in my desperate state, think the only logical thing to do is to lie in the fetal position on the cool, hospital floor, despite the fact I would be sprawled in the aisle of the post-op room. Room…goes…black.
8:33ish: I wake to an oxygen mask on my face, a bag of ice on my chest, and a blood pressure gauge around my arm. Being my 7th pass-out, none of this is new to me. When I eagerly agreed to the task of caring for my friend post-surgery, I forgot one minor detail about myself: vasovagal syncope – a disorder where your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood.
I’d like to think that this condition is due to my great empathy for the pain of others, but really, it’s just about having a weak stomach.
The morning ends with me being carted out of the hospital in a wheelchair, wet rag around my neck, as my dear post-op friend and mentor walks beside me and makes alternative plans to get us both home.
Sometimes, life reminds us of our limits.
In a do-it-all, be-it-all, have-it-all society, embracing one’s limits is a difficult task. Christian leaders in particular can have trouble remembering who is Creator and who is created as we seek to serve the Lord through serving others. And yet, Jesus himself, in very nature limitless God, chose to limit himself by taking on human flesh. As such, he shows us what it means to be fully human, how to live a life of dependence on the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A few principles from His life:
Jesus rested. I don’t know if Christ got 8-10 hours of shut-eye most nights, but I do know clocks and coffee weren’t invented until centuries later. Other than the times we see him wrestling all night in prayer, Jesus likely submitted his work/sleep schedule to the cadence of the day and the rhythms of the very sun and moon he created. In addition, Scripture reveals Jesus observed a weekly Sabbath, God’s gift to man to cease work and enjoy him and his creation. We see in Jesus’ life a pattern of engagement with people and withdrawal from the demands of ministry to receive refreshment through time with his Father.
“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
Jesus remembered his identity instead of succumbing to the expectations of others. Jesus drew strength from the Father’s approval of Him, notably given before He performed any sort of public ministry (Luke 3:22). This secure identity enabled Jesus to face the disappointment he endured from Jews waiting for a political Messiah, family and townspeople who had different expectations of a carpenter’s son, and even those who left all to follow him, yet abandoned Him at the twelfth hour. Certain of who he was and why he had come, Jesus remained true to his identity rather than becoming what others expected.
Jesus said ‘no.’ After a full night of healing the sick in Capernaum, Jesus withdrew for rest and prepared to depart for the next town. The enamored crowds sought him out and begged him to stay. By saying ‘yes’ to these crowds, Jesus would be saying ‘no’ to the purpose God gave him. Instead, he answered, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, for that is what I was sent to do” (Luke 4:43). Knowing the needs of the people and the good he could accomplish there, only wise discernment and assured focus could have allowed Him to leave their presence.
We’re not Jesus. But we’re invited to the same level of intimacy with the Father He had.
Embracing your limits does not mean staying in your comfort zone, avoiding things that are hard, or passing up opportunities to trust God to empower you to do things only he can do.
Embracing your limits does mean knowing yourself well, recognizing your unique limitations, and seeking the Lord for discernment. It means not comparing your journey/schedule/capacity to others. It means taking note of how many hours per sleep you need per night to function well, how many outside activities/opportunities you/your family can say ‘yes’ to and remain sane and connected, and how those choices relate to your overall mission to love God and love others.
Most importantly, embracing your limits means remaining connected to the very source of life, Jesus himself. (John 15) As we abide in him, we can trust he will produce a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness in us.