Response Part 3: Are Limitations Good?   4 comments

I agree with Elisabeth that “where I am weak is when I get to see God at work,” though I think it might be good to consider what this may or may not mean.  How does God work with or in spite of our weaknesses?  He can certainly override or bypass or compensate for our inbuilt weaknesses when he chooses, but I expect, like any other miracle, it is the exception rather than the rule for him to work contrary to the traits with which he uniquely designed each of us (and the circumstances by which he shaped us).  Not only the abilities, but the limitations he gives us are integral to our design, a key part of who we are.  A car is great for driving, but it is pretty bad at sailing.  If we make a car to also sail, those adaptations will hinder its ability to drive well, which is its true design. 

Allow me to get personal.  I was raised by a mother who was not time conscious and a father who was very time conscious.  This was the source of much contention, especially Sunday morning, and both my mom and dad agreed that the “right” way to be was prompt, which of course meant my mom was inadequate and my dad was adequate.  Dad was organized and Mom was disorganized; Dad planned out everything well in advance and Mom flew by the seat of the pants; Dad was very analytical and Mom was not.  We were taught by both parents that we should emulate our father in all these things, because this was godliness, and thus avoid the weaknesses of our mom.

Most of my life I fully believed this to be true.  My dad even taught a college ethics course that included a section on the moral necessity of being good stewards of our time.  The good ol’ American values of productivity and efficiency were apparently a fundamental part of God himself, handed down to us in his word.  The verses in the Bible about being punctual are fairly meager, so he used arguments such as the injury we did others by being late (“keeping them waiting”), which was both selfish and unthoughtful.  It is more the emphasis than the idea which became a real problem for me.  One could argue that good stewardship of the body requires daily bathing with soap for good health and so make showers a moral issue, but I don’t think I would go there with it.

It was decades later that I started to question this thinking.  I found that examples of godliness in Scripture seemed to have a very different perspective of time, one that did not include minute hands on sundials.  Jesus himself seemed to be much more God conscious and people conscious than time conscious, and he regularly chose to live by the former values at the expense of the last.

I don’t mean to suggest that punctuality is of no worth, but I wonder if it does not fall farther down the scale of true values than most white, middle class Americans would like to think.  I wonder if it is a constant source of judgment towards other cultures and people who value it much less.  Might our insistence on timeliness do more injury to individuals and relationships than our being more flexible with our schedules?  In fact, is too much of a need for promptness a weakness of another kind and is flexibility perhaps a strength?  Do we unnecessarily devalue the traits of some folks instead of appreciating their uniqueness and important contribution to perspectives, relationships and plans?

I find myself valuing strengths in others that I do not have.  But instead of simply being grateful for and blessed by their contribution to my life, I compare myself to them and challenge myself to be like them… and then judge myself for falling short.  I tell myself that I must be as organized, as gentle, as confident, as humble as they are.  These are all good things to work on, but things that do not come naturally to me as they do to others, and in fact, they usually have their own downside.  People who are temperamentally gentle often have a very hard time confronting others; Those who are typically confident tend to be less open to the perspectives of others.*

If I use a lot of energy trying to “fix” these weaknesses I attribute to myself, I not only make no room for others’ contributions to my life, but I end up undermining my own unique gifts.  Others become competitors to me instead of partners, and relationships suffer.  The differences between us that were meant to teach us, unite us and make us interdependent become the very things that drive wedges between us because I expect others to be like me and shame myself for not being like them.

Let's Work Together!


*Of course, we usually think of humility and gentleness as virtues (moral attributes which are acquired) and organization and confidence as character traits (nonmoral attributes which are given).  So for the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside the “virtues” and think simply of “traits.”


4 responses to “Response Part 3: Are Limitations Good?

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  1. Have written a very lengthy and personal perspective of my life regarding limitations and how this trait – limitation – may cost me everything, but don’t want to burden you.

    Would like to understand how virtues of humility and gentleness – moral attributes which are acquired and traits (confidence, organization) that are not virtues, are given?

  2. Anonymous, I’d like to respond to that question. I will use a later post to do so. I would be interested in reading what you have written, but if it is lengthy, it would be better not to put it in a comment here. You could email it to me at if you wished.

  3. I LOVE THIS PIECE!!!This is so beautiful and affirming.

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