One bright Tuesday as I walked my dog around our condo complex, I spotted a dad with his two young sons. In front of his open garage, he set out a shiny green bike for his preschooler and a red tricycle for his toddler. In the middle of their street, he had set up an orange traffic cone at the intersection. My dog stopped in the bushes off to the side and I watched the two boys take off, the older one pedaling gleefully and the younger one—in rainboots—walking his trike along instead.
“Don’t go past the cone,” the dad reminded them.
The older son turned around before the intersection. The toddler approached at a slower pace and his dad repeated his warning about the traffic cone.
While my dog finished up his business in the bushes, I could tell what was about to happen and I’m sure the dad could too. As the little one got closer and closer to the orange cone, he slowed down, glancing behind his shoulder every few seconds. Then, with toddler determination—clomping rainboots hitting the pavement—he sped past the cone.
His father chased after him. The child was in no real danger since he turned the corner instead of charging into the intersection, but that was not the point. A boundary had been set to limit the playing area. The little boy had deliberately crossed it.
Living beyond our limits
Kids aren’t the only ones who do this; adults are guilty as well. As humans, we are limited, finite creatures. We were created to need sleep. We need food and drink to sustain us. We must spend a certain number of hours at work. Our houses have walls, our properties are clearly defined.
Most of the time, our limits feel like constraints, like they are holding us back from becoming our best selves. We push our limits in all sorts of ways: cramming in more into less time, sacrificing our sleep, ignoring our bodies cry for rest, spending more than we earn, promising more than we can deliver, holding unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.
As a result, we are overwhelmed and overtired. Our normal state of being is frazzled and hurried.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day,” we tell ourselves.
“Think of how much I could accomplish if I didn’t have to sleep,” we daydream.
“What we need is an extra day between Saturday and Sunday,” we say.
We blame our limits as the culprit instead of our choices, ignoring God’s kind voice reminding us to turn around.
My boys, like many kids their age, are fascinated with superheroes. Their favorite dinner conversation is to talk about which superpower would be best to have. When they ask me which one I would choose, I usually say something about being in two places at once, or snapping my fingers to get housework done. My boys are more interested in flying, invisibility, super speed or super strength. We are mesmerized by the idea of being limitless.
But God created us as limited beings. Jesus embraced the limitations of a human body when He walked among us. He slept, ate, traveled, and washed His face. He lived His days by the Jewish calendar, and worked with His hands alongside His earthly father, Joseph the carpenter. There is nothing evil or wrong about our limits.
So instead of railing against them and suffering the consequences (both subtle and significant), what if we treated our limits as an invitation to flourish within the kingdom of God?
In her book A Spacious Life, Ashley Hales challenges us:
“We must learn to see our limits as the entrance into the good life, not what bars us from it.”
She suggests that embracing our actual lives in the here and now might be a way to do this. “Write down your limits,” she advises, “your real body, the limits of your place, your family, your age and stage, your finances,” and pray through them.
In this way, we can name the orange traffic cones of our lives—both the ones put there by God and the ones we put there ourselves. We can stop pushing against them and trying to get around them, which only leads to hustle, hurry and exhaustion. Instead we can pedal around within the space we’ve been given, and embrace the freedom and contentment that comes from doing so.
And then, like the psalmist, we can proclaim:
“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
You make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6, NIV)