Friday, October 18, 2013

The Lessons of Limitations

“Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:6-8

            Today I’m staying home. Not because I don’t have many things to do. Not because there aren’t demands upon my calendar. I’m staying home because my body demands it, and to be
honest it is frustrating as…, well you know. This is not my style. I’ve always been a type A, high energy; push through until something happens kind of guy. I have tried to pursue my calling with passion. Today I’m learning the lessons taught to me by my new limitations. I am learning that I have to create margin in my life; that Sabbath is an absolute necessity; and that urgent is not usually important.

            I am learning that I actually have to create margin in my life. Richard Swenson,M.D. defines it like this, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits.” Several days last week I pushed myself just a little beyond my limit because there were things that I just wanted to do. They were good things, important things, but over the past couple of days I’ve paid for it. I am learning that I have new limits, far inside the boundaries of my previous ones, and that I have to have much wider margins in my life. Time where I rest, where I meditate and let go of the anxiety that is swirling around me. I have to create space where I can just be in God’s presence without having to do anything. I have to learn to live with and learn from my limitations.

            “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Yep, that's one of the “big ten.” It is probably also the most neglected of all of the Ten Commandments, especially for clergy. On the day we encourage our congregation to practice “kairos,” or “holy time” we are up early, we lead worship, conduct meetings, put out fires, and try to make sure everyone feels warmly welcomed and appropriately spiritual challenged. I’m not certain, but I think that might be a recipe for spiritual co-dependence. We get so busy trying to prove our indispensability that we neglect the teachings of the one who we strive to represent. Maybe it is just me? Maybe I’m the only pastor who feels the pull to work instead of rest. To serve instead of Sabbath, but I doubt it. I am learning that now, as I battle a terminal illness, to make the most of my active life, I must have times of inactivity. Matthew Sleeth, M.D. writes in his book on Sabbath, 24/6:

“Rest shows us who God is. He has restraint. Restraint is restraining
from doing everything that one has the power to do. We must never
mistake God’s restraint for weakness. The opposite is true. God shows
 restraint; therefore, restraint is holy.”

If I were to be truly confessional I’d admit that I have always though of resting, or as Sleeth calls it, restraint, as weakness. God does not view it as weakness or as holy, God views it as worship. I am learning that the only One I am called to please is God, and it is God’s command to Sabbath. It is a shame that I have only begun to learn this lesson when it has become an absolute necessity.

I am also learning that urgent is not usually important. As a pastor I’ve often fallen into the trap of being a spiritualized firefighter. Whenever somebody has complained or grumbled I felt the urgency to try to extinguish the fire. The exhausting realization of twenty plus years of ministry is this: first, there are always fires. There is always something going on that demands “urgent” attention, but usually it is of little or no consequence. Secondly, no matter how many you put out, there are always those who are running around with matches starting more. They are striving to fill the void in their soul where the fire of the Holy Spirit should burn with a fire of their own making. They love the “urgent” because it keeps them from feeling the conviction of the eternally important. I am learning that when you have a very limited amount of energy, the spiritual brush fires just aren’t worth the attention that you previously gave them. I have to do what is absolutely essential to build the Kingdom of God, that is the important work of making disciples, and let the pettiness go. Like Paul also wrote that the trials of the present day “are not worthy to comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

I am learning to live with limitations but my trust is in God who calls us to see our weakness as a testimony to His strength. The rest of the text from above is Paul’s reminder that Jesus is enough. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) So yes, I’m learning to live with limitations, but I serve a God who is limitless in His love and who loves me even when I am limited.


Thank you God that in my weakness, Your strength is revealed. In my powerlessness is when I realize that You are strong enough for both of us. Forgive me when I try to live in my own strength when you have called me to rely upon you. Help me to create margin, practice Sabbath, and to be willing to focus upon the important, letting the urgent pass by without guilt. Lord, let my life testify to your faithfulness and your strength, in the name of the one who became weak to demonstrate strength, Jesus, I pray. AMEN.
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