Wood fence

We love stories of people who overcame limitations. There’s Harriet Tubman – escaped slavery as a young woman, then became instrumental in leading many other slaves to freedom and advancing the cause of abolition. There’s Jackie Robinson – first African-American to break the Major League Baseball color barrier, becoming so successful that he was admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s Nick Vujicic – born completely without arms and legs, who now travels the world inspiring others and telling them about Jesus.

And we could name many others. There are plenty of Biblical examples also; Moses – a disgraced former Egyptian leader who God used to lead His people out of Egypt, David – a shepherd boy who became King of Israel, or Peter – an impetuous uneducated Galilean fisherman who Jesus transformed into one of the premier leaders of the early Christian church.

We focus on the come-back story, the impact these individual’s lives end up making, the glory at the end. We look at the biography, the obituary so to speak. We stand amazed, and we should. We may even feel a little envy. Why can’t I have that kind of impact? Why doesn’t life give me that opportunity? Why doesn’t God use me in that way?

But we too often forget the beatings and humiliation of slavery or the price on Harriet Tubman’s head. We forget the constant insults Jackie Robinson faced for years, or the every-day struggles and dependency Nick Vujicic endures with even simple tasks such as eating. We forget the 40 years Moses spent herding sheep, the years David spent fleeing for his life from Saul, or the shame Peter faced for denying his Lord.

Oh, we know those things; that’s what makes those peoples’ stories interesting. But we’re glad we don’t have to face those obstacles or limitations ourselves.

We also forget that those heroes’ limitations didn’t magically disappear once they became “successful.” Harriet Tubman always struggled with nausea, dizzy spells, and other complications from head trauma she suffered as a slave. Nick Vujicic still doesn’t have arms or legs. Peter never received an education. Some limitations never go away.

And that’s a blessing.

It’s not about waiting until your problem is gone. It’s about embracing your limitations right now – whatever they are – and keeping on keeping on.

For me right now, I’d love to be able to put my grief and my tears and my exhaustion away. I’d love to not have to face today and tomorrow – and all my tomorrows – without the love and support and touch of my husband. I’d love to not have to check “widow” when marking legal papers, or look forward to the next twenty or thirty years being single again.

It’s not that my grief will go on forever in the same way it is now. I know that. But I also know that I can never make this loss as though it never happened. I will always have a scar in my soul, even as that scar heals somewhat.

It makes me think about other limitations I have had, and have now. I think about other obstacles I have moved beyond, other scars I hold even now in my soul, other painful parts of my journey that have made me who I am.

And that’s part of the blessing of limitations.

Living With Limitations

If you’re reading this right now, you also have limitations. Perhaps they are things you’d like to forget, or pretend don’t exist. Perhaps they are elephants from your past that have permanently altered who you are. Perhaps they are things you hope and wish and pray would go away – but they never do. Perhaps you’ve settled into life with your limitations, certain that you’ll never amount to anything because of them.

I don’t believe you and I have to remain in that state. Here are some suggestions I have for myself – and for you – about living with limitations and finding in them the blessing intended.

  1. Embrace Your Limitations. Don’t ignore them or wallow in them. Instead, own them as part of who you are. It’s as if you hold them, look at them, feel them, and then put them in a safe compartment in your heart. They will always be a part of you, but are not the whole you. It may be a loss, a mental illness, a life circumstance, or a whole combination. This becomes especially powerful when you can look at your limitations in light of your whole identity as a person and as a child of God.
  2. Leverage Your Limitations. The people mentioned above all made the impact they did both because of and in spite of their limitations. We would never have heard of them if it wasn’t for their limitations. There are people you can relate to, ideas you have and understand, and a difference you can make precisely because of the circumstances that limit you. The gift inside you that the world needs is that much more valuable and precious – and needed – because of your scars, bruises, and limitations.
  3. Pursue Your Purpose. The idea of finding and pursuing your purpose in life sometimes overwhelms and confuses people. Remember that your purpose is always about others, about something larger than yourself. To whatever degree you understand what that is, focus your energy there. Your purpose will become increasingly clear as you take whatever small steps you know to take in that direction. You won’t get the whole picture right away. Simply keep taking one more step day after day.

Your limitations are part of what defines the gift you have to give to the world. There are others who need you. Don’t let them down.

And that’s the biggest blessing in limitations.

Your Turn: What imitations are you living with right now? Can you think of any blessing in those limitations? Leave a comment below.

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