Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Beauty of Limits

There is an ethos that identifies our western culture, Christian or not: it is the belief that we, as humans, do not have limits. For many, this word is taboo and passé. As a western culture, in which technology blurs boundaries and furthers our messianic assumptions and our indulgent consumptions, we appear to have dropped the concept of limits almost completely. Technology, for all of its good, has done us a great disservice in luring us to believe that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. For example, the internet has made many things possible that were unimaginable previously. If one wanted, one could shop for groceries, interact with family, find entertainment, and view others’ lives through the lens of their MySpace venue in a condensed, hyper-accelerated manner and in the comfort of their own home—and most do. In and of themselves, these things—the experiences and options that the internet offers—are not necessarily bad. But, I do argue that the driving expectation that the internet, and other forms of technology, has subtly created within each of us leads us ultimately to much that is not good. We begin to think limits and boundaries reduce our individuality and take away our freedom. When our ability to live as iPod-studded-islands is curbed in any way, in our western estimation, it is a harsh violation of that which we deserve. We are, in fact, entitled to whatever pleases us and suits our ever-changing tastes, right?

Wrong. We are not limitless creatures. We are not made to operate ex-boundaries. And, the truth of the matter is that we are not entitled to anything. The reality is that we are finite creatures who need limits; in fact, we cannot live without them. Believe it or not, limits are a means of God’s grace that we should embrace, not shun.

If we consider our need for sleep and our need for rest, we quickly can see that our life is ordered by a very real limit, and that very clearly we are not meant to live without bounds. This particular “speedbump” illustrates the beauty of a limit: we come to the end of ourselves on a daily basis, and we are met with rejuvenation and renewal. Or, if we consider our need for food and nourishment and look closely at the reality that not only is life structured by times of rest, but life is also designed for not only one meal per day, but three, we again encounter the reality of limits. We cannot last very long without food and nourishment or we grow weak and we cannot live a full life.

The mantra that our culture preaches of entitlement and a life lived without limits and in search everything that you can get your hands on is a dangerous lie. We are led to believe on many, many different levels and in many, many different ways that “we can have it all, all of the time.” And, the truth of the matter is that it is just not true.

Before you stop reading because you think that Captain No-Fun has arrived, let me ask you to continue and engage with the idea that the fullness of our lives is actually enhanced by limits.

So, if we are not made to live a life as western culture dictates, then what should our lives look like? Well, it is clear that we do have very real boundaries and that those boundaries (e.g. sleep and times for nourishment) actually enhance our lives. We are renewed with each, and these limits actually lead to more fulfillment, not less. Our self-indulgent society does not want us to believe this because it will mean real consequences for the machine of our culture — less consumption, less sales, less money, less expansion, less of a lot of things. But, it will ultimately mean more and more fulfillment, more and more joy, more and more of a realization that we are not gods, and that there is a God who desires us to live with true and complete joy and fullness and in dependence upon Him, our King. I suggest that He wants us to embrace our finitude. As we realize it as a good characteristic of our existence we have to look beyond ourselves. And, ideally we need to look to our King, who has made us in His image but with boundaries, and continually come back to Him.

Embracing our limits will lead us to a life not governed by cycles of wants and desires, but by a relationship with our Creator. Embracing our limits will lead us not to a life that lacks all that we truly desire—joy, love, laughter, relationship, peace, forgiveness, freedom, hope—but to a life that increases these characteristics because we do not have to create them, we rely on our King, Jesus Christ, to provide them out of His infinite character and being. Embracing our limits leads us away from ourselves, and closer to God. Limits, therefore, are a means of grace.

Ah, the design and the beauty of the gift of limits.

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