[image by izzymunchted]
Coming to Grips With Our Limits
Something that I have noticed in our culture, and in my own life, is a certain restlessness that often keeps us from truly putting all our energy and focus towards one thing. Instead, we find ourselves with our hands in all sorts of things, and spread way too thin.
I think we do this for a couple of reasons: 1) We are afraid to commit to one thing. Even two things. What if this doesn’t pan out? What if I miss out on what is happening over there? This is often driven by fear. 2) We never truly acknowledge our limitations. We think/and are told we can do anything and everything. But that is not true. We have limits.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself feeling spread way too thin, and at the end of each day, always feeling like there was more I should have done. I sat down to my computer and decided to open up Excel and make a more scheduled calendar for myself so that I could accomplish all that I wanted to do each day. But I kept running into a problem. There were not enough hours in the day. I had hit a limit, and no matter how creatively I arranged the excel sheet, that limit wasn’t budging. Something was going to have to give. It was a humbling experience to come up to my own limits (not the first, nor last time), and I realized I needed to acknowledge them, make changes, and become more focused on a couple of things, rather than a million things.
In Ronald Rolheiser’s phenomenal book, The Restless Heart, he says this:
“The Hebrew scriptures, for the main part, understand human nature to be so fashioned that it can never come to full satisfaction because human desires always outstrip a person’s actual accomplishment in this life….
Again, this hints at a reason for our loneliness, namely, our potentialities and desires are much greater than we can ever fulfill in a lifetime. Thus, we always feel somewhat unfulfilled because there are always spots inside of us that are empty….
Much of our rootlessness is caused by a lack of commitment and fidelity. Our lives are too much characterized by our refusal to commit ourselves permanently to anything, whether it be another person, a marriage, a religious vocation, or even just a certain job, a certain neighborhood, or a certain set of values. We all want to hang loose! and consequently our lives are too characterized by infidelity, broken promises, broken words, cheap commitments, and hastily drawn loyalties. It is not surprising we suffer from acute loneliness. (pp. 82, 83, 173)”
When Our Desires Come Into Conflict With Our Limitations
This is where the rubber meets the road. Each one of us has lots of things we want to do with our lives. There are lots of things we want to accomplish each day…but those desires, and our passions can often hit limits. Last year I wrote a post, Limits and Potential: Living Free Within That Tension, which was a reflection on this issue as formulated by Parker Palmer in the book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Palmer puts it this way:
“Everything in the universe has a nature, which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of the world. Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do–and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly. Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do. If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood or the stone, his failure will go beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.
The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you. “Faking it” in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one’s nature, and it will always fail.”
God has created us with many desires and passions for our lives, but the reality is, is that on this side of heaven, many of them will not come to fruition. That feeling can leave us in a constant state of restlessness, unable to truly commit to anything permanent, therefore, leaving us constantly in a state of not acknowledging our limits, and with an inability to focus on anything for a long period of time.
Disciplining Our Focus
Most of us in fact, never “get it together!” We never get ourselves together. Instead we go through life frustrated and dissipated, letting our restless energies push us in one direction, then in another, never quite able to settle down, to figure out what we want to do, and never quite able to discipline ourselves enough to achieve the ends we were meant to attain.
In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa wrote about this inability of the human person to “get it together.” He compares the restless and lonely energies in our heart to a current in a stream:
Let us imagine a stream flowing from a spring and branching out at random into different channels. Now so long as it flows this way it will be entirely useless for the cultivation of the soul. Its waters are spread out too much; each single channel is small and meagre, and the water, because of this, hardly moves. But if we could collect these wanderings and widely scattered channels into one single stream, we would have a full and compact waterflow which would be useful for the many needs of life.
So too, I think of the human mind. If it spreads itself out in all directions, constantly flowing out and dispersing to whatever pleases the senses, it will never have any notable force in its progress towards the true Good. (Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart, pp. 19-20)