I like to think of myself as a pretty strong person. Give me a variety of plates to spin, and I can keep them spinning. I’m a runner who likes to stay busy and active. My community is important to me, so I’m involved in the lives of others. I like to be needed, to serve — even to feel important to the flourishing of others.
Does that sound like a fun life? It was. But it’s not mine anymore.
My unborn son and I came close to death because of a pregnancy complication when I was 33 weeks pregnant. My life took a sharp turn toward complete desperation. For three weeks I was on hospital bedrest, daily wondering if my son would need a sudden delivery, daily wondering if he would even live.
My meals were prepared by someone else. I couldn’t shower without help — I needed a nurse to tape a plastic bag around my long-term IV so it wouldn’t get covered in water when I showered. My three children were cared for by a steady stream of friends from church, and eventually my parents took them to their home thousands of miles away so they could have some stability. I was used to being the capable person who took care of everyone, but during those weeks I couldn’t even take care of myself.
I went from having strength and sufficiency to losing all control. It was terrifying.
In God’s kindness, all went well with my son’s delivery. He’s now healthy and growing, and our family is back together again. All is right in the world, right? Well, not exactly.
My baby and I nearly died. I couldn’t just go back to normal after such a sobering experience. In the months following, I battled postpartum depression and some form of PTSD making the adjustment to post-hospital life difficult. With each attempt to return to normalcy, life has brought me yet more limitations (illness upon illness, more surgery, back injury and physical therapy) — each one a big flashing neon sign: You are not in control.
Through all this, I’ve kept looking back on my former life with great longing. Will I ever be there again? Will strength ever define me again? It has been the most humbling and frustrating experience of my life.
But it was also transforming.
I used to think I was invincible. In my youth, I never dreamed I would be spending my 30s with this loss of control. Sure, I had my share of suffering and limitations but never to the degree I’ve experienced in the past year. But it’s brought me to my knees. It’s reminded me that I’m a limited human and not God. God doesn’t need rest; I do far more than I want to admit. God is never crippled by physical ailments; I am all the time. God is not a slave to depression and anxiety, yet they have been my constant companions this year. Next to God, I am humbled in my need for everything. But being brought face to face with my limitations has only strengthened my resolve to trust Him.
Why do I share this with you? Because the reality that we are limited beings is a hard one to come to terms with, especially when we are in our prime. Society tells us we are strong and that youth can do anything. But at some point we all have to come to terms with the limitations of our circumstances, our bodies, our intellect and our entire beings. Whether it’s depression, physical suffering, job demands or even general busyness — life limits us. And as I’m slowly learning, I think that’s what God intended all along.
Our limitations strip us of our sin.
Our limitations have a purifying effect. Suffering we face isn’t necessarily directly linked to specific sin in our life — just think of Job and all his suffering, which wasn’t because of sin. But hard circumstances can certainly shine a spotlight on the sin that still weighs us down. There is nothing like the crucible of suffering to smoke out the sin that still entangles us.
My second book released one month before I was admitted to the hospital. Book launches are anxiety-inducing times. As much as the author doesn’t want to make it all about the numbers, reviews and praise of the book, it’s hard not to focus on it. And I focused on it all of the time. I spent my free time reading reviews. I agonized over negative ones. My entire mood was contingent on who loved the book. I was a slave to the praise of others.
But then I heard the grave reality that my baby and I could die within a matter of minutes, and those scary words reminded me there are far more important things than book sales. I needed to brush up against death to see that my priorities were all askew. I emerged from that trial with a new perspective on my platform and writing life. It purged me of my self-focused quest for popularity, and I’m so thankful for it.
God doesn’t grow weary, but I do.
Isaiah 40 shows us God’s strength and power and how it’s the only thing that sustains us. One verse highlights an important difference between God and humans:
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
My twin sons memorized this verse earlier this year. One day when we were out driving, their baby brother was crying in the backseat of the van. One of the twins asked why he was crying, and I answered, “He’s just tired.” My son then asked, “Is he weary?” In his little mind, my son was trying to categorize the things he knows about God and the things he knows about us. And he knows God doesn’t grow weary.
Throughout Isaiah 40, God is not tired. God is not faint. God is not exhausted. God is not limited by biology, sleep deprivation, time, a job or anything else.
But we are tired. Even youths are weary and faint, Isaiah said (vv. 30-31). But God supplies strength to the weak. He supplies energy to the weary. He supplies all we need. My limitations aren’t in isolation and neither are yours — they serve an incredible purpose. My limitations are given to me to make me run to God, to throw myself on His strength and mercy. My limitations are given to me to remind me that God is not limited, so in my humanness I can run to the only one who can sustain me.
We live in light of eternity.
Isaiah also reminds us of the coming restoration — hope for the person weighed down by limitations, who feels there is no hope in this life. Isaiah reminds us that even if we don’t feel renewed right now, one day we will absolutely be renewed and there will be “no sound of weeping” and no “cry of distress” (65:19-20).
I hate being limited. Even now as I type, I feel a dull, pulsing ache in my back. My body is crying out for redemption. It’s not what it once was, and it is limited. But God has no limitations, and He’s making all things new.
My limitations don’t tell the final story in my life. They don’t in yours either.
Just after saying the youth faint and grow weary, Isaiah 40:31 also presents us with hope in the immediate:
They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Yes, even youth is no match for our finiteness, but there is a way to live in light of limitations. For me, this requires an almost daily evaluation of where I am emotionally and physically. I can plan my days out with the best intentions, but my limitations don’t always abide by my plans. So every day I have to hold my expectations loosely, knowing that my limitations might force me to change course.
For example, every year our family runs a 5k on Mother’s Day weekend. It’s a tradition. This year, I had to walk it — which if you are a runner, you know that is a mild form of torture. But running it would have been too much for my body. This humbling limitation forces me to see that God is the one who even provides my legs with the ability to walk. The strength I need just to get out of bed every morning is all from Him. By His power, He upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3), including my weak back muscles and fractured emotions.
I’m learning to be content with the power God chooses to dole out. Often we treat God’s power like a genie in a bottle. We pray a prayer or claim a promise like “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), and think this means God will give us what we ask. But that’s not how God works. Instead He teaches us to be content with whatever He chooses to bring our way — great strength and productivity or great weakness and limitations.
He supplies the power. He meets the needs. And He grants the grace to be content.
As we wait on the Lord to supply what is lacking, we can trust that He will either renew us in this life (so the peoples may praise Him) or in the life to come (where we will worship Him for His power forever). Either way, waiting on the Lord always leads to life. We’re weak, but our strong God holds us.
I don’t know where you find yourself on this journey through our broken world. Maybe you feel your limitations, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re a youth who hasn’t grown faint yet. But you will. And when you do and you’re overwhelmed and discouraged by your limitations, let Jesus’ words minister to your heart:
Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
There is rest waiting for all of us — limitations and all.
Copyright 2018 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.