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October 29, 2015

accepting limitations

This morning my husband made an unusual request: "Please don't do any freelance work today. Please take a nap." For the past week I have had a cold, and he wants me to get better. Last week I was staying up late, getting up early, teaching lovely but noisy kids, eating restaurant food, staying with strangers, and toting luggage up and down stairs...which could explain why I am still ill. When he instructed me, I countered, "But I have a few clients to whom I promised something...." He revised his instructions slightly, because he's reasonable like that: "Please don't do anything today that you don't need to do today."

So today I made a four-item to-do list. There are probably 25 other things that I could put on my list, 
because we are thinking of moving again, 
because we are submitting immigration documents,
because there's laundry and cleaning to do,
because there are other clients waiting for this and that. 
But today I am thankful for the limitation my husband put on his coughing, sneezing wife, because I accept that instruction as from the Lord. God Himself told me through my husband that I should rest today. So, I will try.

My husband makes great "I'm sorry-you're-sick" tea.

During the past almost-year I've been learning to accept the boundaries my husband occasionally puts on me (and when to negotiate with him, and when not to). He doesn't really ask much of me, but I'm realizing that even what he encourages me to do is good for me, too (like spending less time hunched over my laptop, and more time exercising, cooking wholesome food....or napping). My husband wants good things for me because he loves me, and any limits he puts on me, he puts on me in love.

Although learning to submit to a husband is new, having limitations placed on me by authorities is not. We like to tell children that they can "be anything they want to be", but actually, we all know that is a lie. We're all born between boundaries, borders and barriers. Some are placed on us due to gender or origin; others constraints are intellectual, emotional, physical or spiritual. Boys can't become robots. Girls can't become cats. Though some say differently, boys can't become girls, and girls can't become boys. Every child cannot become a dancer, an astronaut, or an acclaimed physicist, because we don't all have the abilities or the opportunities. Children should be taught that yes, there is a huge variety of options available to us, but that there are also boundaries or restrictions on what is wise or what is possible.

It is often supposed that limitations are meant to be done away with. We take pride in proving others wrong and flexing our authority muscles. Sure, some restrictions are wrong, unnecessary or unBiblical. But some limitations are God-given, sovereignly and wisely put around us for our good. We need discernment to know which is which, and to appreciate our limitations, we must first appreciate the character of the God who ordained them. 

I've experienced my own share of interesting limitations: my dad didn't like me to wear big earrings ("too showy") and in high school a teacher pulled me aside after chapel and gave me a longer T-shirt to wear because my stomach appeared between my shirt and my pants. In college, our dorm rooms were inspected for neatness and our lights were supposed to be out at 11pm. Bosses have put a variety of limitations on me as far as what time to be at work, how my work should be done, and how many days off I can have. Once when I told church leaders something I wanted to do, they didn't see things quite the same way, so the idea was stalled. Although my Asian roommate would encourage me to go out in shorter skirts and tank tops, my parent-like figures in Asia encouraged me to dress extra-modestly due to the culture and be cautious when out alone. 

Now I can see that my life's limitations have directed me. My gender, origin, and intellectual, emotional, physical or spiritual constraints have played a huge role in steering the ship of my a good way. And more specifically, those who told me what I could and couldn't wear taught me about modesty and to be more concerned with the inner woman than the outer. The mess police reminded me that less stuff equals less mess, and the 11pm lights-out preserved my sleep even when I didn't want it to. By seeking to abide by my bosses' rules and working with them for years, I have learned countless things personally and professionally. My church leaders' lack of enthusiasm about some of the ideas I presented ultimately guided me in another direction which to me now seems God-ordained. When I met a foreign girl my age in Asia who had been groped while alone in an alley, I was reminded that God kept me safe through the wisdom of my authorities. God used yays or nays of my authorities in different stages of life to guide me.

Today, as I sit here, suck my fourth throat lozenge, and look at my short (yet still somewhat intimidating, considering how I'm feeling) to-do list, I am thankful for today's husband-imposed limitations. There's a lot of freedom to be found within the limitations! There's freedom to not worry about answering that work-related buzzing on my phone; freedom to nap when I'd usually be up and about; freedom to write; and freedom to hold off one more day on making my big to-do list for the next few months.

No, fortunately I can't "be anything I want to be" or "do anything I want to do." I'm a woman, a member Christ's church local and universal, a wife, a freelancer, a guest in a foreign country, and (today) I'm sick! All of those categories or statuses limit my options in some ways, but they also provide a framework for what is possible. The unique framework of my individual limitations is good, because it communicates God's will for me quite clearly, and it allows me to be the best I can be. Within that framework, I am guaranteed God's protection over me as I explore, learn, grow and achieve! Knowing what I can't do often helps me to see what I can. As I told my kids in a raspy voice last week, a fish will be at its best when it acts like a fish, not when it acts like a bird. A sick Christian / woman / wife / freelancer / foreigner will do really well at sleeping and taking medicine today. Tomorrow or next week, she should be able to do much more, but not today.

Maybe your God-given constraints today have you working overtime and still having guests over for supper. Maybe accepting God's limits on you today means taking a nap and ordering take-out instead of cooking. May you find direction in recognizing your limitations. May you find contentment in accepting your limitations. They were put in place by an all-knowing, all-seeing, everywhere-present God, and His love for you knows no limits.

Now if you would excuse me, I need to nap.

In acceptance lieth peace,
O my heart be still;
Let thy restless worries cease
And accept His will.
Though this test be not thy choice,
It is His—therefore rejoice.

In His plan there cannot be
Aught to make thee sad:
If this is His choice for thee,
Take it and be glad.
Make from it some lovely thing
To the glory of thy King.

Cease from sighs and murmuring,
Sing His loving grace,
This thing means thy furthering
To a wealthy place.
From thy fears He’ll give release,
In acceptance lieth peace.

—Hannah Hurnard, "In Acceptance Lieth Peace"


  1. I wrote up this comment a couple of days ago...but my internet timed out and the comment was lost. I hope I can remember what I wrote. :)

    Thank you for this reminder that we need limitations. I don't have a husband (and my parents don't live on the same continent as I do) so I have to be diligent to recognize the need for limitations in my own life. God has made this evident several times over the past few months (including a brief sickness that left me sleeping on the couch for a couple of days). One of the ways that was hardest for me limit was when I realized I was playing the flute at church too much. I always played it as an act of service and prayed that God would make help me worship as I played, but I knew I was doing too much. I'm still trying to find the right balance, but for now I've decided to not play during the communion service. This will give the opportunity to come to this time with a more reflective attitude.

    Hope you slept well and are now up and kicking again. :)

  2. Kendra, Thank you for sharing about your experience as a single person working out what your own limitations are. I remember realizing once as a single that I was almost burning out with church activities, and needing to cut down on what I was doing, but it probably took me longer to notice than it would have taken had I had a husband to observe how frayed I was getting. May God give you wisdom to know how to keep yourself from overdoing it!! Thankful that He can do this by other means than just through a husband :)

    (PS - I hate when the internet kills a comment you've just written!!)

  3. So much wisdom in this post! Thanks for sharing. "There's a lot of freedom to be found within the limitations!" and "Knowing what I can't do often helps me see what I can." are two big take aways for me.

  4. Thank you, Jodie, for your comment. :) God is so good to help those who know Him to see the wisdom and find peace in the very limitations that others resent, because they know Him not!