Limitations


I’ve probably forgotten everything meaningful from my seminary days, but I do recall one class — an online course taught by the seminary president, Dr. Richard Mouw. He made a point about being human that has stuck with me: being human means having limitations.

Now this sounds negative, but that’s not how it should sound. Dr. Mouw said it as a reminder that we are defined, and “definition” implies boundaries. These boundaries and limitations work to create who and what we are. They define us.

This means that we have to be honest about being human, which means being honest about having limitations. We can’t — and shouldn’t aspire — to do everything. We should recognize our boundaries.

This, of course, sounds like the opposite of every cheerleading mantra: “You can do anything you want.” It isn’t. It’s saying almost the same thing. Note that it is “anything” (singular), not “everything” (plural). In many cases, a person can do any (one) thing he or she wants. If dedicated, if constantly moving in one direction, most people — at least those whose aspiration is something less than becoming Superman — can achieve anything they want. But no one can achieve everything.

The trick with writing — or whatever that “anything” is — is figuring out how to fit it into our limitations. I’m torn because I want to be everything: a great father, a learned theologian, a talented drummer, a witty songwriter, a loving husband, a beloved teacher, a renown novelist, and a profound essayist. (Those are just the first aspirations that pop into my head. I would also like to become a prominent list maker.) I can’t do everything, at least not well. So I choose. Some things are essential, some are important, and some are, frankly, wishes.

I would like to say that I will become a great writer. I’m working in that direction, but I’m not willing to give up the “father” and “husband” aspirations to get it. Choices have to be made. It doesn’t mean I stop writing, though. It means I write differently — in smaller portions, on carefully selected projects, etc. But, I have to write: it’s one of my limitations.

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