Early in my high school years, I broke my ankle at soccer practice. I’d just started getting playing time, and even scored a goal in a game (my first) the day before.
Then Lindsay Vetter and I went for the ball at the same second in a drill (she won), and I came down hard on my ankle. Crunch. Ouch.
After surgery, I looked forward to getting back into sports. Surely, I thought, I’d be good as new before long.
“Well,” my surgeon told me, “you’ll be almost as good as new eventually.”
This was news to me. I was fifteen years old. The age at which almost everyone feels indestructible.
Learning my limits was hard.
It still is.
Yet having limits is grace. God designed us that way out of love, not to frustrate us. He even models for us how to respect our limits – after creating all that is, he rested. Six days of work, one day of rest. Limits.
We all have limits. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual limits. You can tell when you’re pushing against them because your body or mind or spirit will begin to tell you, “Stop! Please stop! That’s about all I can handle!”
When you feel the nudge, that tightness in your chest, a heaviness on your shoulders, that’s the sign to respect the limit. To take a step back. To reevaluate. To rest.
Limits can be frustrating, to be sure. They don’t always make sense. Scientists still have literally no idea why we need to sleep. (My favorite answer is simply “because we get tired.”) Likewise, researchers don’t fully understand why the human body doesn’t seem to be able to make it past 120 years of age or so. Limits.
Then there are emotional limits. Why is it that I, an introvert, get tired in big groups of people so much faster than my extrovert friends? How come public speaking (one of many people’s greatest fears) doesn’t phase me, but having to make small talk for an hour can almost do me in? Limits.
My challenge this holiday season is not simply to respect my limits but to embrace them. I simply cannot sign up for every holiday event and activity and still make time for Jesus. Neither can my kids. We are finite. When the time, the energy, the evening, the date is gone, it is gone forever.
It’s not enough to keep waiting for someday, when things aren’t so busy. We can unbusy ourselves now, if we embrace our limits.
And as Annie Dillard once noted, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Because I work in ministry, my holiday season comes with a unique calling. When most people are off from work by Christmas Eve, that’s one of the busiest days of the year for me. Yet I don’t want to take a pass on the quiet soul work of Advent just because there are sermons to write and candles to light.
So this year I’m looking ahead. I’m blocking out quiet nights on the calendar. I am saying no to the nonessentials. I’m paring back and paring down so that in the midst of the hubbub I can hear the still, small voice of the infinite God who came as a baby for me.
Limits are hard. And good. And beautiful. And absolutely necessary.
We all have them.
How can you embrace yours?