Living with Limitations

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge - Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

I sometimes wish I could live with my limitations as bravely as St. Paul did. Instead of boasting about his successes Paul would boast about his weaknesses. It was fine to boast about the good fortune of others, but on his own behalf he wrote, “I will not boast, except for my weaknesses.”

We may have wished that we could overcome a handicap or weakness and that we possessed talents we lack. And we also may have wished that we could live with our limitations with grace. Some succeed. Some with physical ailments learn to live with their infirmity; and instead of complaining, give thanks for the blessings they have received. They don’t fake this attitude. They have simply learned to accept themselves as they are and to move forward.

Paul did this and wrote about the “thorn” that was given to him in the flesh, even relating to it as a “messenger of Satan to torment (him).” (2 Corinthians 12:2-10) But he discovered that it was a blessing rather than a curse. It kept

him from becoming too elated. He wrote that three times he appealed to the Lord about this, that the “thorn” would leave him, but the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Perhaps you have appealed to God to relieve whatever is bothering you, which may be physical or mental. I began the appeal as a child. I was disappointed with my I.Q. test. My brother scored as a genus and went to Harvard at the age of sixteen. My mother tried to comfort me by saying, “But Honey, you can play the organ.” At the time that didn’t seem to be much comfort, but because I could play the organ I was able to earn my way through prep school, college, and seminary. I still wish, however, that I had the intelligence to fully figure out how to use my cell phone.

Learning to accept the things we cannot change takes time. We usually have to go through all the stages of grief that apply not only to acceptance of the death of a loved one but to other life situations that we wish hadn’t happened. The five stages outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are : Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We can deny that we have a problem and live as if it weren’t so, but avoidance is only a postponement to meet the truth. We may become angry and turn to God to bargain our way out of the problem.

A friend of mine did this when he was in a foxhole in the Korean War. He told God that if God would get him out safely he would become a priest. My friend kept his promise having survived the bombs and shells, and became a priest. He was a very nice guy. He just didn’t have the vocation, and years later left the ordained ministry. For us, if we have been through the first three steps and failed, we are likely to become depressed. That can take its toll on us and be extended. But sometimes when we are at the bottom, so to speak, we listen and are open for a better plan. Eventually it is a matter of accepting the things we cannot change, and the willingness to move forward in a positive way.

Paul noted that his “thorn” kept him humble leading him to acceptance of his weakness. This humility is often learned by humiliation. But however we learn it, Paul is telling us to be who we are. Things that need to be changed and can be changed should be changed. But acceptance of our limitations is important. The spiritual journey is filled with the repeated need to become humble. Our limitations help us to be receptive to new possibilities. The “thorn” becomes a blessing rather than a curse. In a humble state we are able to empty ourselves so there will be room to be filled with the Spirit. That brings vitality and joy. We then say to ourselves,

“Why did I pretend to be someone else for so long when I can now know the truth and be me?”

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge

Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

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