The Glory of Limitations

There is a glory in limitations, in weakness. After struggling for many months with ‘long covid’, I thought earlier this year that it was completely over. The major symptom for me had been a deep fatigue, and now it seemed my energy was back, my doctor confirming I was ‘well’. But unfortunately that may have been premature. Though I am indeed much better than the last months of 2020 and much of 2021, the fatigue seems to have returned at least to some degree.

But we are back to traveling, including soon to our beloved India again. And with a hope and a prayer that the fatigue will stay manageable. It is so easy to long for complete health, for everything to be perfect and strong within and around us. For life to be always as we want it to be. Yet that is really never the case, is it? We begin to emerge as a world from a two year pandemic, and a devastating war begins in Ukraine. We expect new health as we emerge from isolation, and a cancer or other kind of diagnosis confronts us.

Limitations and weakness are all around us. Whatever our age, whatever our context. Of course limitations can increase as we get older, as loss after loss mounts outwardly. Yet as St. Paul reminds us in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians 4:16, ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.’ The outer losses may pile up, but the inner life can be renewed. That is the hope and promise of a faith in Christ Jesus-not that we will be spared from limitation and suffering, but that in the midst of it we will be renewed and find grace to see others renewed also.

A few weeks ago on a morning walk in my neighborhood I saw the scene in the photo above, and wanted to remember it. The house in the picture is getting a new roof, an important need in this climate of so much rain so much of the year. Getting a new roof means ripping off the old one, a messy and very expensive affair. It also causes a certain amount of disruption to the surrounding neighbors with all the noise involved. But there are times and seasons when houses need new roofs, and so do we need new work done in our lives. The glory of limitations is being content with knowing we have them, and paying attention to what can be fixed and what needs to be embraced without fixing.

Also in this photo is a prominent sign, ‘Dead end’. I actually live parts of the year on this dead end, and have reflected some on the limitations involved. Sometimes in life we are on course to a dead end, or a detour from our original path. How quick we are to want to rush through these times, and try and find the ‘successful’ path again. None of us want to reach a dead end or a detour that leads nowhere, do we? Yet there are seasons of pain or grief or just the normality of life that feel very much like a cul-de-sac that has no way out except the way you came in.

This week I’m reading as a devotional an excellent book by a favorite author of mine, Barbara Brown Taylor. She is writing in this one, An Altar in the World, about spiritual practices that are connected deeply to our bodies, like walking the land or paying attention to the little things around us. One of the practices she mentions really intrigued me, and in some ways was new. It was the practice of getting lost. She writes of times in her life when she would be on a path that took her deeper into the wilderness, and she was lost. Or changing a tire on a dark road alone at night and feeling very lost and vulnerable.

Being in a dead end season in our lives, or facing the glory of limitations, can feel like we are very lost. How long will we be sick? Will we ever recover? Will I ever get over my fatigue? Will we ever be able to let go of our job, and turn it over to someone younger or more suited to it? Will we ever find love again after a divorce or death of someone we dearly love? Sometimes we are lost, and the spiritual practice reminds us to pay attention and remember how God has helped us in the past. I was in South Africa this month for a few weeks, and the place I stayed had a labyrinth. This is a place like a maze that you can walk as a spiritual (and physical) practice, where the path may lead you to the outer edges before you find the center. One definition of a labyrinth is ‘a place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys.’ Several mornings I walked it, and reflected on my life and journey thus far.

Life often seems like it is composed of blind alleys, of limitations. Some of us watched this past weekend as at the Academy Awards television show from Hollywood, two men faced off with one slapping the other after his wife was insulted. Limitations and humanness on display for the world to see. Both have apologized in the days after, but in our twitter world everyone of course had an instant opinion. For me it was a reminder of the glory of limitations. We are flawed, we are human. We do stupid things, lose control. Say and do things we should not do. Sometimes because we love, sometimes because we hate, sometimes because have not taken the time to know the difference or what our actions or words will do to people.

But many of us run from limitations, or pretend they are not there. Denial or endless positivity will not deliver us from the glory of limitations. In fact denial may close the door to the blessing of seeing and feeling the glory of that weakness. And hinder or stop the growth and learning process that comes from the embrace of limitations.

The greatest glory of and in limitation was of course the Incarnation. The Word becoming flesh, and dwelling among us. Jesus living a very human life with all its limitations and struggles, dying for us and rising again to new life. Experiencing the temptations, detours and dead ends of life, yet without sin. Trusting His Father even in the darkness of the Cross.

There is a glory in limitations. Are you embracing them, or running away in denial?

4 thoughts on “The Glory of Limitations

  1. Steve, great perspective!

    Reading “The emotionally healthy leader” last year, that chapter on embracing limitations was a welcome slap of reality in my face.

    This was a new thought for me, and welcome, as I turn 70 this year, and realize I don’t have unlimited years. Or health. Or capacity. So where and to whom will I focus my energy? We do have choices in that.

    My tribe reflects the personal preferences of the founders. Believing there are ‘no limits’ in prayer, giving, obedience, etc. is empowering. But as you point out, there is glory in embracing limitations. Indeed, it is part of our design.

    But the inner man! No built-in limitations to this part of us. Until our dying days, we can find renewal. So I’m going for that, big time. And will do my best to care for this body, that ages continuously.

    If big is better, that limits many who are not called to be big. If non-stop organizational growth is the goal, how do we deal with pruning?

    I realize our personal giftings, which empower us to serve, also come with their limitations. But by embracing them, we find that we are forced to connect with others, to create a team or a ‘body’ where no one says to another, “I have no need of you.”

    To paraphrase Paul, “if the eye says to the hand, I have no need of you, how will I insert my contact lens?” God-given limitations will work for us when we humbly embrace them and reach out to others without whom we will not find a completion.

    Keep up your writing, Steve!

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  2. Wonderful writings Steve! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on limitation. We sure do have them and what Joy to be reminded they can lead us to new Life!

    On Tue, Mar 29, 2022, 4:13 PM Encounters of Faith in Asia: Past, Present and Future wrote:

    > Steve Cochrane posted: ” There is a glory in limitations, in weakness. > After struggling for many months with ‘long covid’, I thought earlier this > year that it was completely over. The major symptom for me had been a deep > fatigue, and now it seemed my energy was back, my do” >

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    1. Martha, thanks so much for your reply. You have been so much on my heart, and I heard that tomorrow you will have surgery. If you will see this before then, I want you to know of my love and prayers for tomorrow. You continue to be such an encouragement to so many in all you are going through.

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