Accepting our Limitations

Reflection by Joshua Elzner

“There is a beautiful reality which one discovers through growing in the childlike spontaneity of love, through being enfolded ever more deeply and consciously in the dimension of gift. This is, namely, the truth that holiness does not consist in surpassing our own limitations, either as a creature or as an individual, but rather in accepting them and coming to live joyfully within them. It could be said that the only limitation which we need to fight to overcome is the narrowness of our own sin, which blinds our perspective, isolates us within ourselves in possessiveness, pride, and fear, and draws us to dominate and abuse others and creation. But this sin is precisely a distortion of our creaturehood, not an essential part of it; it is the false effort to be bigger than we truly are, or to be something altogether different. Sanctity, in the last analysis, consists in simply being able to truly be a human being—indeed, more, in being oneself in the eyes of God.

“Precisely by wanting to “be like God” in a false way which went against their creaturely limitation and dependence upon God, Adam and Eve found their nature corrupted and broken. For us, therefore, returning to dependency upon the Father and trustingly accepting our littleness and our limitation is at the heart of our healing from sin, our rediscovery of the happiness of being beloved children. This is the happiness for which God made us.

“It is fear and pride which impel us to strive to be something that we are not, to fashion an “ideal” in our minds toward which we strive. Anyone who has taken a big step in life, whether in embracing a new vocation or a new job or a new way of living, has experienced the human tendency to “imagine” oneself in the new state. Certain ideas crystallize in our minds and we tend to act in a way so as to fashion ourselves according to these ideas. Because of this we can tend to become blind to the actual responsibilities incumbent upon us in our state, to the actual invitation of God that is coming to us in prayer and in the circumstances of our lives. Above all, we lose sight of the gift that each day and each new moment is meant to be for us. Further, we can experience a kind of “self-alienation” when we do not live up to our ideal, and consequently we feel like a failure. We say to ourselves: “This is who I was meant to be, but I am too weak, too broken to live up to it. Now God must truly be frustrated with me, at least as frustrated as I am with myself.”

“This kind of experience of humiliation can be healing, however, for it teaches us not to rely so much upon our own ideas or imagination. Rather, God’s grace seeks to penetrate into this experience of weakness and failure, and to awaken in us something much more pure and profound. We learn to see ourselves, not according to our own limited ideals, which are always more or less impersonal, but as God himself sees us. Then we realize that he loves us just as we are, here and now. He sees and loves in us the deepest and truest personal mystery that is our own. Who we really are is precisely who we are in God’s eyes. And there is nothing in the least impersonal or general about the way that he loves us, nor about the invitation that his love begets in our hearts to become free through responding to this love. He invites us to become, so to speak, “more than we are,” not by becoming someone else, or by living up to an abstract ideal, but by allowing the truth that he has already implanted within us to blossom from within and to express itself outwardly, to come to full maturity.

“The encounter with God’s love in the midst of our own weakness and poverty goes still deeper than this. Ultimately it can lead us to simply entrusting our own limitations, our own brokenness, hopes, desires, and fears, into the hands of the One whom we know loves us—and leaving them there. This is true surrender. Rather than needing to control and fashion our own lives, our own growth, our own sanctity, we simply leave it in the hands of the Father. On our part, all that is ultimately necessary is to receive each new day as he gives it, each moment as it flows from his loving hands, and to respond to it with all of our heart. In his will, indeed, is our peace. If we simply surrender to him and obey him in childlike trust and simplicity, he will, truly, take care of the rest.”

A great weight off

Another dose of Fr. Marc Foley:

Even though I believe that by the grace of God I am not the man I was thirty-five years ago, for I can honestly say that much emotional healing has taken place in my heart.  Nevertheless, during times of stress, when my old fears and neurotic compulsions well up within me in all their savage intensity, I feel that nothing has changed.  I say to myself, ‘When will I ever be rid of this fear?’

Once I could accept the answer ‘Never’ I felt a great weight taken off my shoulders.  For I was released from the impossible goal of trying to become someone other than myself. ‘Working on yourself’ can be an insidious mask of self-hate for it makes you feel that there is something wrong with you until you are ‘healed.’

I have often told people who come to me for spiritual direction to never make it a goal to conquer their faults.  Simply ask for the grace to resist the temptation at the moment.  Take it for granted that you will always have tendencies toward certain sins and self-destructive behaviors, which will always be opportunities to grow in virtue and rely upon the grace of God.

True courage

I just finished reading a beautiful book on prayer, Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden, by Dr. Anthony Lilles.  I liked his take on the difference between bravery and courage:

True humility attracts God.  Humility regulates how we esteem ourselves.  The word humility itself derives from the Latin humus which means rich fertile soil.  This suggests the great primordial truth of our origins.

Man was fashioned from the dust of the earth, and at the end of his days, he returns to it.  God breathed his life into mud and made it capable of doing something divine.  Life is a very fragile gift lavished upon us when we have done nothing to deserve it.  We have only a very brief time to make of it something beautiful for God.  God is attracted to souls that ground their lives in this truth.  Such humility permits Him to accomplish great things.

A particular kind of courage needs to go with such humility: the courage to accept ourselves, including our weaknesses.  Romano Guardini distinguishes this sort of courage from bravery.  Bravery confronts things that threaten us from without.  Courage, from this perspective, helps us confront what is within us.  This is not the same as excusing our own sinfulness.  It is a matter of humbly accepting the truth about ourselves, courageously acknowledging we need God’s help.

(Anthony Lilles, Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden)

Then it may be

“When people are making demands on you and you feel drained and empty; when you have to speak and you have not had the time you wanted to prepare; when God calls you to a task for which you know yourself inadequate; when you feel humiliated and foolish because some undertaking in which you did your honest best has turned out disastrously–then it may be, to your astonishment, someone will tell you that you helped most, did your most fruitful work.  When our ego is humbled and not obstructing, God’s creative Spirit can often have freer play.  Like the bare trees, it may be that we allow the glory to shine through at these times more purely than in our summer prosperity.”  (Maria Boulding)


“You are only a child!”


“I wonder whether we take seriously enough, we grown men and women, the stress that Jesus puts on being a child in order to receive what God has to give?  It means God can come fully only to the little one.  It means renouncing all ideas of our own spiritual importance, of what we do for God, what we give to God, our own supposed goodness and virtue.  It means casting aside any concern for that image of ourselves, so precious to ourselves, that we are indeed truly spiritual men and women.  Julian of Norwich maintains that, in this life, we can have no other stature than that of childhood.  I think that when Jesus takes the child in his arms, sets him in front of himself, pointing to him as a model, it is to himself he is pointing.  His inmost heart was always that of a child and that is hwy he could live with such freedom, courage and self-squandering.  To my mind this is the nub of the truly Christian faith, this grasp that all is gift and our work is simply to receive, to learn how to receive.  Certainly, when I myself get the spiritual ‘fidgets’ and become anxious about myself and my life, I find my answer in simply saying to myself: ‘You are only a child!'”  (Ruth Burrows)

Be it understood

“Be it understood and remembered that the darkness of trials is not evil, that dryness of spirit is not sin, and that confusion of mind is not malice. They are invitations to patience, calls to resignation, beckonings to the healing Cross, and admonitions to be humble and obedient to the will of God.”

William Ullathorne from Patience and Humility, Sophia Institute Press

Learn to live in peace

More from St. Francis de Sales:

Learn to live in peace and gently bear up with your little miseries.  You belong unreservedly to God.  He will lead you safely to the port.  If, however, he does not deliver you immediately from your imperfections, it means that he has some other plan for you and that could be to give you a longer formation in the practice of humility, so that you may be well rooted in that lovely virtue.