What Are Limits and Why Don’t You Love Them?
Limitations, by definition, are restrictions; they will follow you through your teen years and into adulthood. Your alarm clock limits the amount of sleep you get each morning. Your pantry offers a limited supply of breakfast items. After breakfast you have a limited amount of time to put your dishes in the sink before your mom reminds you. You are limited, and in many ways you are used to limits. You are familiar enough with your humanity to understand you’ll never grow up to be a unicorn and you can’t shapeshift, time hop, or disappear into thin air. You have the same basic set of human limitations. You require air, food, and water to live, and so you breathe, eat, and drink without ever questioning God or his goodness for giving you limitations.
Certain limits you do mind. And in your teen years there seems to be an endless supply. Perhaps your parents limit your screen time, regulate how late you can stay up, and prevent you from eating twelve Twinkies for breakfast. At school your teacher might place limits on who you can sit with at lunch, how much you can talk or text during class, and how many days you have to make up late work. When you’re with your friends, you might feel a limited ability to fit in because of your embarrassing flip phone or the fact that you don’t gossip or watch the same kinds of movies. Or your growing body might suddenly limit you from fitting into your favorite pair of shoes from last spring or from having clear skin and good hair on school picture day. I’m sure you’d love to have the final say in overriding certain limits. Limits cramp your style.
While you’re not likely to smile and say thank you to the adults in your life as they place limits on everything from the apps on your phone to the amount of apple pie you can eat, you likely know these boundaries are for your protection and good. Then why don’t you love limitations and see them as a privilege and delight? Because limits tell you something you don’t like to hear: No.
No, this isn’t best. No, you don’t know what is best. No is an imposition to your plans. No prevents you from having what you hope to have, doing what you’d love to do, or feeling the way you think you should feel. Rather than embrace the no, you’d like to push it away. You loathe limits and are tempted to rail against them through arguing, negotiating, forcing your way through, or denying they exist at all.
Limits force you to come to grips with both your humanity and your sin nature by showing you that you are not God, but you sure want to be. Your spiritual parents were no different. Adam and Eve were the very first limit-loathers. God said clearly, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:17), and instead they took and ate, and ignored the limit given by God. In response, God punished their rebellion by placing them outside the garden and outside his presence. You are plagued by the same sin nature and desire to go your own way and define your own good. You want to push past limits that restrict you or tell you no. But heed the warning of Isaiah, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight” (Isa. 5:21). Thankfully, there is an alternative to loathing your limits.
Check Your Blind Spots
I live on a busy street at the top of a hill. During morning and afternoon rush hour, it takes forever to get my mammoth SUV out of the driveway. Of course, I could confidently throw the car in reverse without a second thought and hope my Suburban’s steel frame stops traffic and the speeding cars politely pause and let me in. But this would be foolish and would put my children’s lives in danger. Instead, every time I get in a car, I acknowledge my limited perspective and look into the rearview mirror and then to my side mirrors for the perspective they can offer on whether or not it’s safe to back my car out of our driveway. Without the outside input of my mirrors, every trip to Target would be a potential opportunity to total the family car.
Even though you probably don’t have a driver’s license yet, you do have blind spots. You can’t see all your faults and insufficiencies on your own. You need an outside perspective in order to grow. You’ll need to learn to ask for help. Rather than wasting your time and energy loathing every limit in your path, grow in godliness by regularly keeping check of your blind spots. Self-sufficiency is dangerous; you need the help of others. With outside input and perspective, your limitations can actually help you grow in godliness. Checking your blind spots is a sign of humility and maturity.
You were born with a major spiritual blind spot. You learned in the first chapter of this book from Ephesians 2:1–7 that you began your life dead in sin. Paul, knowing you’d likely forget, tells you to remember “that you were at that time separated from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). You were born limited! You can’t get to God on your own. You are broken by sin and have no hope of fixing yourself. This is not a limit you should argue against like the arrogant men John mentions in Revelation who say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” who do not realize they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
You need God to give you the desire, the ability, and the strength to trust him and obey his commands.
Without God’s help, you are limited in your understanding of your need for his forgiveness, limited in your ability to trust Christ, limited in your understanding of eternity, and limited in your ability to live for the glory of God. On your own, you cannot comprehend God’s thoughts, his plans, or his purposes. You need God to give you the desire, the ability, and the strength to trust him and obey his commands. And because you are not God, you are in great need of God’s wisdom in all of life. You need his help and can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5). Thankfully, your limitations and your needs do not come as a surprise to God. Whether it’s personal weaknesses and inabilities or boundaries placed on you by people in authority—like your parents, your teachers, or your coach—they’re all used by God for your good and his glory. He uses the same limits that annoy you or feel like a burden, to help you grow in godliness. When you admit you have blind spots and ask for God’s help, the Holy Spirit responds in power, ready to assist you.
This article is adapted from Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Maturing in Christ by Lindsey Carlson.
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