The Gift of Limits

Limit and weakness are not synonymous. Much of the conversation in churches is about overcoming our weaknesses. In the same respect, our prayers often focus on what we don’t do well. I’ve succumbed to the lure of “giftedness” when it’s represented by a number on a defined scale attached to a spiritual gifts inventory. But I am yet to be surprised enough to actually try something new after completing one. Parker Palmer reminded me this week that knowing our limits is just as important as realizing our gifts. After the tax credits went to sleep I picked up Let Your Life Speak for the first time. It wasn’t my first encounter with Palmer’s gently self-aware invitation to join him peek into the deep. Somehow though, this thin reflection slipped by me. In a world that recognizes limits as mere inconveniences easily overcome with grit or prayer, Palmer’s honest admission that there are some seemingly virtuous things he cannot do no matter how hard he tries, was refreshing. Still, I sort of knew this already.

But I did not consider the pain we cause others when we try to do things God did not design us for. Palmer recounts the almost fatal mistake he made when a small college asked him to be their President. He was qualified, but as he says “I should never be the President of anything.” Even Palmer, a gifted writer, master teacher, and experienced leader has limits. He saved himself and a college community from certain pain by admitting this.

The Church allows for many gifts but too often constricts the forms they must take before they can be shared. Is the choir the only place for people who can sing? And where do I go if I love music but can’t hold a note? Maybe our imagination will widen when we realize our limits are not weaknesses to be overcome but invitations to create bold new possibilities for sharing our gifts.