“We all move uneasily within our restraints.” - Kay Redfield Jamison
Limitation is not a popular word in American lingo. We are surrounded by motivational sayings, urging us to believe that “anything is possible,” ”we can do anything we set our mind to” and so on. We are a people who love to dream big and encourage others to do the same. While confidence is important and success often does not come without a level of faith and determination, there is also a belief in oneself that can border on delusion. That kind of “self-confidence” is destructive and possibly debilitating.
Americans do not like to be told ‘no.’ Our success as a nation has come at a price: a sense of entitlement. Who doesn’t grow up wishing they could be a rock star or professional athlete? Few of us are blessed with the talent to do so, however. Yet, so many chase after a dream that is unrealistic for them, believing what they are told, that they can do it if they believe in themselves. When it doesn’t happen they end up greatly discouraged and wondering why God didn’t allow them to have what they most wanted. One only has to watch the tryouts for American Idol to see hosts of these unrealistic dreams being crushed. Is it a loving thing to encourage someone on a path toward the music business when they have no discernible talent? Is a life without limits really attainable?
Humility, as it is understood in the Bible, is not the antithesis of success. It actually redefines success. Many success stories will not be highly publicized or even be acknowledged by those it helps. Many are gifted to perform roles that may seem menial to some of us, yet are vital to the growth of God’s kingdom. He has given each of us gifts and a purpose, and every role is important (1Cor 12:12-26). God gifted some to serve food to widows, freeing up the apostles to teach and ending a dispute that could have fractured the early church (Acts 6:1-7). He has asked others to suffer in order that He might use their example.
The truth is that what we may view as a limitation could be the source of our greatest triumph and purpose. Recognizing the limitations of our life is often one of the keys to finding our purpose. Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was 17. Hers is not a story of success because through grit and determination she was able to heal herself and walk again. Her success came in embracing her struggle and using her greatest area of weakness to glorify God and help others. Had she not been a paraplegic, there would be no Joni and Friends camps for special needs children. The power of her ministry is in her weakness. That is what gives her credibility when she talks of how to suffer well.
Sometimes a limitation is something we need to account for and accept before we are really able to showcase our strengths. Tons of people every day refuse to take medication, refuse to go to counseling, refuse to work on their marriage, or refuse to delegate responsibilities because they don’t want to acknowledge that they have a problem. If those obstacles were removed or accounted for it would likely be the catalyst to tremendous growth or great success.
The key to finding our purpose and direction in life is embracing both our strengths and our weaknesses. Both have valuable information to share with us and we are unwise to ignore either one. God does not put obstacles or limitations in our path unnecessarily. There is no benefit from living in a delusional fantasy world where we don’t have any weaknesses. In humility, embrace your own brokenness as an opportunity to glorify God and you just might see Him work in ways you’ve never seen before.
Mike is the director of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling of Philadelphia and counsels at the Newark, Wilmington, Elsmere and Glenmoore locations. Mike counsels adolescents, adults, children, and couples.