Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thriving within Limits

In the past few weeks (as the result of a challenging sermon from my pastor, several Weavings journal articles, and a ridiculously stupid line from a Madonna song), I have been thinking a lot about the limits within which we live our lives. 

I think that my generation sees limits in a mostly negative light.  We are Americans, after all, free and tough and independent.  We can do whatever the hell we want to do, right?
(Madonna reference from the kickin' pop song "4 Minutes": "But if I died tonight at least I can say I did what I wanted to do.  Tell me, how 'bout you?")

Really?  That's the thought you want to leave the world with?  Well that just sounds asinine to me. 

So I have been considering the limits under which I currently live (most of which I have chosen freely), and I have found that, though there are many, my life is far richer and more colorful because of them.

Marriage is a limit.  In 2003, I vowed to spend my life with Greg, giving him my love and care, investing my time into building our home together, and even putting his needs before my own at times.  That means that I am not free to date, or to disappear over a 4-day weekend without notice, or spend my paycheck on whatever I want.  I can't imagine living life any other way, though.  I am limited, but not burdened.

Parenthood is a limit.  Before Sophie was born, we did what we wanted, when we wanted.  Running to the grocery store for a gallon of milk at 10 pm?  No problem.  Driving by a theater and spontaneously stopping in to see a movie?  Sure!  Having friends over to play cards until the wee hours?  Of course.

Obviously, since her arrival, my life has changed dramatically.  Spur-of-the-moment road trips are a thing of the past, as are "quick" trips into Wal-Mart, quiet restaurant meals, having friends over past 9, and the luxury of getting an uninterrupted night of sleep.  Do I miss those things?  Sometimes I do.  But I chose to become a parent, to place these limits upon myself, and I have never regretted it.  Motherhood has brought unsurpassed joy (and frustration) and depth and wonder to my life.  I would choose these limits a thousand times over.

Geography is a limit for me in a few different ways. 
I live in a lovely but very isolated town in western Nebraska.  The nearest Best Buy electronics store is 2.5 hours away; the nearest Olive Garden restaurant is closer to 4.  For someone who is used to these kinds of things being just down the road, living here has required some adjustments.  The physical location of our current home limits the kinds of things I can see and do on a regular basis, and also leaves me feeling a bit cut-off from the rest of the world.

Our location also limits my relationships in some ways.  My closest friends live in Illinois, Texas, New York, and Arkansas.  My family nearly all live in southern Missouri and Arkansas.  The relationships that are my foundation and support system are all conducted primarily through phone calls and Facebook updates now.  I am thankful for those things, but they are no replacements for face-time with loved ones.

Because of this distance from family in particular, I have spent just 5 nights away from Sophie in nearly 3 years.  The first was the night I traveled to Missouri and back in 30 hours to bring my mother to visit.  The second was the night of my father's funeral visitation.  Nights 3-5 were this summer, when I spent time in the hospital after gall bladder surgery.  Many of my friends and acquaintences talk about leaving their kids with grandparents or aunts and uncles for the weekend, and if my family were closer, I am sure I would enjoy that freedom.  The fact is I just don't have anyone I feel it's appropriate to leave Sophie with overnight, and so this is a limit created by my perfect storm of geography and motherhood.  This one is difficult to live with at times, but it has resulted in a very tight-knit family unit, and that has worlds of value in itself.

Social position is something of a limit on my life as well.  Being a minister's wife means that some people view me in light of their own ideas about what I should or should not be.  People sometimes act differently around me when they learn I am a minister's wife.  Friendships with church members need appropriate boundaries; finding a confidante is not as easy as it once was for me.  As a person who has often jumped ahead to speaking before careful consideration of her words, I find this limit to be a blessing and a challenge.

Pregnancy is also very limiting, dictating what foods I can eat, what medications I can take, what activities I can participate in, and even how I can move my body.  At this late stage, with 6 short weeks left to go, I am very aware of the physical limitations that this pregnancy has placed upon me.  Visiting the restroom 800 times per day definitely feels like a limitation.  :)  Giving my toddler a bath at night takes great effort and usually leaves both of us ready to hit the sack.  Even while sleeping, rolling over from one side to the other requires a specific 3-step process and lots of painful muscle movements.  My body just can't do a lot of things right now, and the things it can do, it often does under pain and protest.  But even under these kinds of limits, there is no other joy like feeling my baby growing and moving inside me; I gladly accept them.

So what is the point of all this pondering?  Honestly, I'm not quite sure yet.  I do know that, in a culture that idealizes (and even idolizes) the idea of personal freedom, freely accepting limits on one's life may seem counter-cultural and even strange.  Not all of my personal limits are ideal or appealing to me.  But I can't imagine life without them.

Binding yourself to a spouse and children creates especially defined limits.  In an objective sense, these are the most constraining things in my life.  And yet imagining my life without these three precious people is upsetting, because of how I have thrived within the boundaries they have created for me. 

I have also been pondering what this appreciation for limits could mean for the life of faith.  How does choosing the way of Jesus limit us, and do those limits allow us to thrive as a result?


  1. And yet "if [you] died tonight at least [you] can say [you] did what [you] wanted to do." You chose your limits and are happy to live within them because of that choice.

    I think our generation sees limits that come from outside sources. I.e. those that we don't choose for ourselves. For good reason.

  2. That is an interesting reading of those words, and the second time in two days that someone has given me a fresh perspective on a passage that was really offending me. Perhaps my critical reading skills are not up to par these days? :)

    I do believe, though, that even limits we put on ourselves can cause us to chafe under their constriction if we don't appreciate that we are, in fact, choosing certain limits upon our freedom when we make certain choices. Our alarmingly high divorce rate and children living in single-parent homes point to a generation (or two, or three) of people unhappy with the limits they have chosen for themselves.