Summer break is over. It’s back to school. Or work. Time to stop and think about your limits before you commit. What will your knee jerk response be, “yes” or “no”?
Commitments come in many shapes and sizes. “Can you be room mom again this year? It only involves planning two parties.” But you know from experience you will be asked to help much more than that. How can we choose wisely?
I remember having the commitment conversation with a friend over ten years ago. As we talked about the new school year that was beginning, she mused, “We’re always living our lives in the tension between embracing our limits and expanding our capacities.”
We’re always living our lives in the tension between embracing our limits and expanding our capacities.–Betsy Ricucci
That phrase has stuck with me. I feel the tension of its truth whenever I’m faced with making choices about how to invest my time and energies. The phrase also describes a range. I’m quick to say “yes”, tending to push my limits. You might be a knee jerk “no” sayer, preferring to stay safely away from the fence.
I want to offer help to both sides, considering our limits in this post and our capacities in a second post.
Limits Are Real
Here’s a quick definition. Limits are the boundaries of my life. Capacity is what’s inside those boundaries, the potential that’s meant to be cultivated. Picture a field with a fence.
The reason our limits are to be embraced is because they are God-given. He is the one who sets the boundaries. He does this for our good, to serve as a reminder that we’re just creatures. Only the Creator is unlimited in energy, intelligence, strength, gifts, resources, and benevolence. I quickly run out of each of those, especially benevolence.
For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone of you not to think more highly than he ought to think but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.Romans 12:3
Limits are actually a gift. Do we believe that? We’re meant to understand our personal limits. God wants to protect us, not just from wearing ourselves out, but from trying to play God. Taking our place as limited creatures is good for our souls.
Pushing Your Limits
There’s just one problem. Limits are so, well, limiting. There’s so much to be done, and not enough people or time to do it. So, I shrug, I guess I have no choice but to push against that fence until it gives way.
How can you tell if you’re a limit-pusher? As you make your plans for this year, do you find yourself:
- making overlapping commitments instead of choosing?
- allowing unrealistic transition time?
- shortchanging essentials? (from laundry to meals and sleep!)
- trying to squeeze in one more thing?
- not recognizing that a “yes” in one area automatically means “no” to others?
One way to tell if you’re pushing your limits is to watch for crud that begins to surface:
- habitual busyness—so normal, it feels wrong not to be busy
- frequent agitation—everything has to go right for my plan to work
- low grade frustration—everything rarely goes right!
- constant striving—pushing harder when things go wrong
- “get outta my way!”—people becoming an obstacle
All of these are symptoms of the pride that fuels our push against limits. Yes, pride is the bad news underneath our self-imposed pressure. But I have some good news for you.
“Pride is the bad news underneath our self-imposed pressure.”
A Story Of Limits
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells a story to help his disciples understand how to live until he returns. It’s a familiar one to many of us—the parable of the talents.
It tells of a master who was called away on a long trip and leaves his property in the hands of his servants. He gives each of them a different amount of cash to manage–specifically 5, 2, and 1 talent–depending on each one’s ability. You could say he gave them limits.
As far as I can tell none of them pushed their limits. The 2 talent servant didn’t try to act as if he had 5. The 1 talent person didn’t complain that he needed 2 (he did other things wrong, but more on that next post). What did they do instead of pushing?
They lived aggressively within their limits and watched their capacity expand. The first piece of good news is this, “limits aren’t necessarily limiting.”
Limits aren’t necessarily limiting.
But there’s even better news here for us. We may (no, we will) fail to embrace our limits humbly and invest our talents as aggressively as we could. But there is One who did.
The Master and the Servant
Jesus told this story about himself. He’s the good Master, who trusts his servants enough to give us his treasure to invest while he’s gone. He entrusts us to raise children, nurture neighborhoods, manage our work, and solve problems of all kinds. He will return to commend and reward us.
But Jesus is also the “faithful and wise servant,” who left heaven to embrace our limits. He lived meekly, but also aggressively within the human body and fallen world where he was placed, cultivating that field with his own blood. And we are the crop.
Be free to embrace your limits imperfectly, because he embraced them perfectly for you.
This post is Part 1 of a four-part series on Kingdom Productivity.