by Ashley Hales
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
I wanted school shopping to be seamless this year. Just four kids, four lists, and a zen-like trip to Walmart to pick up 100 composition notebooks, notebook dividers, protractors and pre-sharpened #2 pencils, along with 100 other people cramming last-minute shopping in. (Are you laughing yet about the zen part?) As often happens, for one child, suddenly things felt inequitable. Love seemed to look like all new things. And without all the new things, suddenly the child felt unloved. I bent down to try to talk about budgets and limits.
“We have limits,” I said. “Budgets help us know how to spend our money and so, no, I can’t buy the new backpack, lunchbox, and cool new headphones this year. We have what we need.”
I understand my children’s desire for more. We’re fed ads on our social media feeds about new clothes, the latest workout trend, or the cool new planner that will help us finally get our lives in order.
But what I’m learning is that more won’t satisfy. Whether it’s a new backpack or a new season of life, we tend to think that the good life will happen someday in the future, with a “more” attached to it. More time, more disposable income, more freedom, more choice.
And a life of “more” is leaving us — especially women — exhausted, unable to sleep, overextended, and anxious. Something has to give.
But what if it is our limits that actually lead us into the good life?
I know it seems counterintuitive: how could our limits open up space for flourishing? One of my favorite lines in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. King Tirian finds himself (along with the Pevensie children) backed into a stable that had been used for the Aslanic impersonator, Tash. They expect evil, or at the very least dilapidation. But instead they are welcomed into the kingdom of Aslan, where “the inside is bigger than the outside.”
Our limits are like that. From the outside, our limits on our time, attention, money, loves, desires, and body feel like strictures holding us back. But they’re actually the doorway in. Jesus shows us what this looks like.
Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, chose to enter the world small. Paul says to the Philippians that Jesus “didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped after,” but instead he took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6). Jesus took on the limits of humanity because of love.
He was local to one small spot of the earth. He surrounded himself with just 12 disciples. He walked. He healed and fed many, but not all of Palestine. He often went off in the early morning to pray. Choosing to limit his time for the things that restored: relying on his Father for everyday strength. He took a nap while a storm raged. He paid attention. And he died on a hillside outside of the city, to show us that our limits of humanity aren’t barriers to success, but like so much of life, an invitation to knowing God and making him known.
Jesus lovingly took on the good, God-given limits of humanity to show us that our human limits are precisely the pathway to knowing God.
The good life is not a choose-your-own-adventure life, where we get all that we want with Jesus as a cherry on top. A spacious life only grows through the gifts of our actual lives — in the limits of our time, bodies, season, calling, and affections. A spacious life, like a Narnian world, is only entered through small doorways.
Limits, then, are an invitation.
When we feel the squeeze of our budgets, we can turn it into prayer and thanksgiving.
When our bodies ache, we can bring those aches to the Man of Sorrows who was abandoned and rejected by men.
When we do not feel like we have enough time, we can remember the birds of the air and flowers of the field who receive rather than achieve.
When we are overcome with loss and sorrow, we know Jesus, too, has experienced heart-wrenching grief to the point of death.
And when a child asks for more, the limits on our budgets are an invitation to compassion, understanding, and a bearing with.
In God’s kingdom, our truest identity and real freedom comes as we, too, identify as dependent children. As children we are dependent, not independent. We are under authority, not destiny-makers; we are members of one another, not lone rangers. And this is good news. May we find a spacious place opening up in our souls as we see our limits as good guardrails that grow our intimacy with God and each other.
Ashley Hales is writer, speaker, host of the Finding Holy Podcast and PhD. She is the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and A Spacious Life (out 9/14). Take your free hustle habit quiz and get your roadmap to help you see your limits as good at: aspacious.life.