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January 31, 2020


I’ve been thinking about limits lately.
5 min read

I’ve been thinking about limits lately. All kinds of limits, like the ones imposed on us by others (our government does not allow us to steal or kill) and the ones we impose on ourselves (by obeying or flouting an eating plan). I’ve considered the limits my son exhibits in his language as he struggles to make himself understood on a daily basis. I see my own limits as a parent in terms of knowing how best to help him and consistently treating him with the patience and wisdom he deserves. While I’m amazed at the drug therapies we’ve come up with for all sorts of problems (which companies advertise as I watch the evening news), there are still severe limits to what we can do for people suffering from certain diseases.

If you sit with the concept for a while, you realize just how fundamental limits are to our experience as human beings. There are things we can and cannot do, and the lines are always shifting as we adapt to situations and either fail or overcome. You could say death is the final limit placed on us all, as we leave this earth and head for a place that has greater or lesser limits, depending on what you believe. One biblical visionary put it this way: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:4)

Today the question that keeps circling my brain is: what kind of limits does God observe regarding me? And by that I mean, is there a point at which he says, “THAT’S it, she’s endured enough. I’m stepping in.” And if there is such a point, is it a fixed point, or does it change according to what season of life I am in, what circumstances I am currently facing, and/or how well I am facing them? One thing I do know for sure: if ever someone failed to protect you in your lifetime, drawn that all-important line in the sand past which no one was allowed hurt you, you may very well have trouble believing that God remains keenly interested in how much suffering you endure, for how long, and for what reason. Nothing in that sphere of your subjective experience escapes his notice any more than the father of a newborn would be able to tear his eyes away from his child during a surgery he had to witness.

The small thing that actually triggered all this reflection on limits passed through my hands in my kitchen not long ago. In our house we go through quite a lot of fresh produce, and I was washing a bunch of asparagus to prepare for dinner. One stalk came apart from the rest and when I went to retrieve it, I noticed that a smaller asparagus was sprouting from the base of the spear. My first reaction was “Awwww” because on the surface, it looked like a cute baby and mama, such as you might see on a nature show. But then, something deep inside shifted, and my heart was suddenly crying out: I want that so bad. So bad.

Looking back, what I suspect my heart was expressing in that moment was an emotion that I have been carrying around for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that it feels like a part of my anatomy—skin, bone, tissue. Nothing you’d want to remove and look at under a microscope if you didn’t have to. But I sense the time has come to do just that, and for more than just my sake. Who doesn’t carry hidden longings when it comes to God, feelings that don’t exactly square with what we’ve been taught to confess about him by our sacred texts and spiritual communities? In my experience, when a strong feeling leaps out at you, it’s probably not unique to you at all, however much it makes you feel like a freak.

The main word that comes to mind when I picture the mother-and-baby animals I’ve seen on TV, be they elephants, whales, or bears, is trust. I absolutely trust that no matter what, there’s nothing to keep the parent from taking care of its infant, short of being seriously maimed, killed, or captured. Because it’s not a matter of consideration for the mama orangutan as to whether she’s going to carry her offspring around for a full four to five years. It’s not a matter of dedication to an ideal in which she believes. She doesn’t have to reflect on what she’s doing, because for her, caring for her baby is a matter of instinct, pure and simple. It’s part of her makeup. Therefore it’s very powerful.

Instinct does come into play for human beings attempting to parent, but then, so do a lot of other things. Like emotions, good and bad. Life experiences that strengthen or damage. Circumstances that help or hinder. Not to mention the way we ourselves were parented. Add to that the fact that the world can be a mean and miserable place and you wind up with a person looking up at God with wary eyes. We don’t trust that it’s pure instinct for him to want to take care of us. For some of us, we believe quite the opposite: that God is rather more inclined to strike us down in punishment for some infraction than nourish us or help us stay safe.

Not that we would tell anyone these secret convictions. We may not even realize we’re riddled with them like cancer.

I wish I could tell you that becoming a parent myself has superseded all the wounds of my past and that I fully understand the unconditional, protective love God has for me. Alas, such a statement would not be true, at least not right now. What is true right now is that I want to know that God cannot do something to me without it vitally affecting himself. To cut me off from his care would be like undergoing an amputation. That when he looks down at me, he sees his baby suspended off the side of his body and is pleased with the sight. And that whatever forces govern his choices for me, they are as pure and instinctive as those of mothers in the wild, with never a thought otherwise. (Do they get it from him?)

What would you give to experience the fierce, unadulterated love of God for you for even five minutes? To know without an iota of doubt how desperately he is devoted to you, how much he wants you to be well and whole, and always, always, by his side? How he has zero interest in exacting suffering from you to even some cosmic score? How lonely he feels for your company when you ignore him, how distressed he feels when you struggle?

I don’t know about you, but when I stand on my mental platform and gaze upon that particular train, I realize I would pay a lot. Quite a lot to board that transport and ride it to its very last stop. Because it would make me feel so safe. Let me rest inside at last.

Hopefully, I will not have to wait until I’m lying on my deathbed, mere breaths away from such revelation. How do I step closer to it now, absorb more of the truth that I’m the Little One springing forth from the Big One, an outgrowth out of his very Being? One whom he loves with all this heart?

Perhaps I’ve never posted a blog as barren as this one because I have no substantial answers to these very pressing questions. I’m going to try praying for more signs of God’s grip on me, in the things that pass through my hands and before my eyes. (Vegetables will only take you so far). And I’m also going to ask for flesh and blood people to demonstrate divine love, which I believe exists, even if I try—and so often fail—to apprehend it. I admit, letting such longing for love surface involves some discomfort, even pain. But I’m also left with the sense that it’s a good thing to confess nonetheless, this wanting to be wanted by God. That it will lead to a good place.

Do you believe such love exists for you?

And if so, what will you do to pursue it?