I had just finished my second year in China and my whole life was in major transition. After months of long-distance dating and engagement, I was eager for my upcoming marriage. But sometimes the crazy changes felt too much to handle - moving back to the US for a year-long leave. Planning a wedding - decision overload! Living in a new, unfamiliar place getting to know a whole new group of people who already knew each other - being the outsider again. Figuring out marriage. Finding a job and a place to live.
That was my second summer of intensive Wheaton masters classes. After packing and moving, saying goodbye to teammates, friends, and students, I flew straight from China to start classes. While I enjoyed the course work, accumulated piles of stress were getting to me. I wasn’t sleeping. I would go to a cafeteria full of (actually yummy) western food and try to choke down half a sandwich. I think I looked half-zombie. But honestly, I had been on this level of barely functioning for so long, I couldn’t even recognize it.
It wasn’t until my mom came to visit and expressed her concerns, immediately echoed by my roommates and fiance, that I realized I wasn’t doing so well. Looking back, I’ve probably never been closer to a total breakdown. Under great persuasion, I made the difficult decision to drop out of my second class and go on vacation with my family instead.
I would never have made this decision on my own. I was pretty sure that quitting was never the right option. The point was to push as hard as possible, as long as possible, and then deal with the end result later. This was surely the spiritual answer.
And sometimes it is. There are a lot of verses about pressing on, fighting the good fight, not losing hope, and all that. There are times to challenge our limits. But sometimes we forget those other verses, the ones about comfort and shelter and hiding. Those are alright for children, but they are not the words of a spiritual superhero.
There are times when God gathers us up in our weakness and pulls a Gideon. There are other times when God allows us to be weak and just cares for us like Elijah in the wilderness.
It can take some time to relinquish the superhero mask. It can take some time for the voices of “you should do more, you ought to be better” to fade. It’s hard to admit you can’t handle it all.
As I’ve mentioned, pregnancy is a place where I find myself running up against my limits a lot. And it’s frustrating. There are so many things my non-pregnant self can do so easily that my pregnant self finds exhausting. But I have decided that this is a season of recognizing and respecting my limits.
One of the parts of the limit setting process I find most difficult, and most necessary, is consciously choosing to release the guilt. I catch the voices of “I should, I should, I am not enough...” and examine their validity. Sometimes I turn them around. While my first response is, “I haven’t done that much, I shouldn’t be tired. I should be stronger,” if I think about it I realize, “My body is working much harder than normal growing a baby. I should be tired.”
How do we know when to challenge the limits and when to respect them? Sometimes we need guidance from others. That summer at Wheaton, I could not recognize how far I had run past my limits. It’s hard to see when you are in the middle of it. Listen to the people who know you, who can look into your life and say, “You’re not doing well. You need to step back.”
Sometimes it means listening to your body. I got sick a lot in college, and most of my colds turned into sinus infection, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. I thought I could keep pushing and doing everything, but instead I just got more sick. That summer at Wheaton, I could barely eat or sleep, and I should have paid attention to that. Right now, when I get sick or super sore, when I feel “deathly tired,” I realize my body is probably telling me it needs a break.
As an “intuitive” person, I also listen to those inner feelings of rightness. At the moment, messages about being stronger and trying harder fill me with anxiety and a weight of condemnation. God may speak with a voice of conviction, but not one of condemnation. So I know these voices are not the ones I should to listen to.
Instead I have been continually brought back to messages of comfort. One of my favorite rediscoveries in this season has been Isaiah 40:11: "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."
I have also been reminded of another verse in Isaiah 30:15: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” What I had forgotten was the rest of the verse: “...but you would have none of it.” How many times have we rejected the salvation and strength waiting because we are too busy for quietness and rest?
Are you in a season when you need to sit quietly and respect your limits? Don't miss out on these “gifts of mercy.”
[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Limits]