A wave of melancholy washed over me the day of the holiday concert. I was sad because I wouldn’t be singing with the local choral ensemble.
It’s not because the group didn’t want me.
This past fall I was honored to receive an invitation to join the choir, and began attending rehearsals. My soul was immediately enlivened by the process of learning and making music again.
But I was simultaneously confronted with an old nemesis—my relentless battle with chronic fatigue.
The two-hour Sunday evening rehearsals were intense, with no breaks. During each practice my body began to crash at about the half-way mark, leaving me hanging on by my fingernails for the duration. Worse yet, I paid for it dearly for several days afterwards, struggling to function at work because of the resulting exhaustion, headaches, and dizzy spells.
Though I hated to do it, I knew I had to withdraw from the group. My health limitations had gained the upper hand once again.
Perhaps you know the feeling, even though your situation is different. We all experience limitations of some sort—physical, mental, financial, educational, and emotional, to name a few.
It’s natural to feel frustrated or sad like I did when obstacles keep us from something we want.
But what if we could transform our view of the things that limit us (especially the things we cannot change) to a positive perspective?
Many years ago I was heading to a conference with a carload of co-workers. Several hours into the journey I implored my boss to pull off the freeway because I wasn’t feeling well. I apologized profusely, and exclaimed, “I hate my health problems.” He turned to me and in all sincerity said, “Why? They are a beautiful part of who you are!”
I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me? How can something that limits my life be anything but hideous?”
As the years pass, however, I am beginning to glimpse the beauty in my limitations – even finding reasons to be thankful for them. Here are ten examples:
1. Limitations remind me of my true worth. When I am unable to participate or perform at the level of others, it’s tempting to feel as if I am not worth as much. But then I am reminded that my true value is not in how much I can “do,” but in who I am as a child of God. My identity and value come from Christ, not the world’s definition of success.
2. Limitations help guide my path. My health situation has shaped many of my decisions —especially job choices and where I live. While these factors may have eliminated numerous options, they also guided me to roles and places that have been “perfect fits” for me.
3. Limitations point me to open windows. Even when a door closes, like singing with the community vocal group, often a “window” opens to reveal something I can say “yes” to. For example, I was able to join my church’s worship team, which doesn’t require as much time as the choir did. This has led to even more opportunities, like performing in a trio on Christmas Eve.
4. Limitations motivate me to plan ahead. With limited energy and special dietary requirements, it’s essential for me to schedule each day carefully. My health challenges require me to organize activities, rest breaks, meals, and snacks in a way that both maximizes my productivity and accommodates my physical needs.
5. Limitations magnify my gratitude. While my natural inclination is to focus on what I’m missing, I have found that my limitations increase my appreciation for what I can do. When I arrive home from work, I am weary but filled with gratitude for what I was able to achieve that day. And because I have to be very selective about my extracurricular activities, the ones I do participate in mean all the more to me.
6. Limitations increase my empathy. A friend of mine lives in chronic pain and is homebound much of the time. Though our health challenges are different, we share a special connection because we can empathize with one another’s struggles. Our limitations have created a precious pathway to camaraderie and mutual encouragement.
7. Limitations help keep me humble. It would be easy for me to fall into the trap of claiming credit for things if I felt strong and invincible. My sense of fragility and weakness makes me realize that each accomplishment is a gift from God. He is the one to whom all the glory is due.
8. Limitations make me more authentic. My first instinct is to try to hide my limitations and appear as “normal” and capable as possible. Yet I’ve also learned that being more open and vulnerable about my struggles not only enlightens others, but gives them permission to let down their own facades.
9. Limitations fuel my courage. Last summer I was presented with an opportunity to do something outside of my normal limits. As I wrestled with the matter, a friend reminded me that “the only absolute failure is to not try at all.” Since then, I have been pushing my boundaries more often. Even when my attempts to step out of my comfort zone don’t work out, they are still successes because I demonstrated the courage to try.
10. Limitations increase my faith. My physical challenges lead me to depend on and trust God every day. Like the apostle Paul, I have prayed that God would remove my “thorn in the flesh.” Yet even if he never does, I echo Paul’s words of faith, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV).
What limitations are you living with? Whether they are temporary or long-term, I challenge you to look for the benefits in them. The very things you view as constraints may actually be providing spacious opportunities to expand your faith, character and influence.