Knowing Your LimitationsFr. Barnabas Powell
I don’t like to admit my limitations. In fact, one of my besetting sins is seeing a Speed Limit sign and thinking of it as more of a “suggestion.” Admitting that I really struggle with this is an absolutely essential part of maturing and growing in self-awareness. This maturing process is vital to my spiritual health. It means that you are able to know yourself in an honest and straightforward way without trying to either excuse your behaviors or hide from the truth about yourself.
Knowing my limitations is important information for me. Most of the time I have to learn the hard way!
But we humans usually have to come to the end of ourselves to ever really know ourselves, and I am convinced, my dearest, that this is precisely the root cause of much of our hiding from ourselves, others, and even the foolish notion that I can hide from God. This sober realization of our own limits can also, if unprepared for this revelation, cause us to fall into despair, anger, or even a loss of faith.
So, what wisdom do we need to embrace to avoid the pitfalls of self-awareness and embrace the power of the Faith to take us to this self-knowledge in a healthy and life-giving manner?
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 19:25-27; 21:24-25:
“At that time, standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
We know this scene well. The Lord, hanging from the cross for me and you, sees His mother and St. John, the beloved disciple. The Lord, being the only Son of the Theotokos, knows someone will have to look after His mother after He ascended, so He gave His mother to our brother, St. John. And St. John takes her into his home from then on.
Then St. John, whose repose we recall today, ends his Gospel with this confession: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The life of St. John, the Beloved Disciple, is worth recalling since he is the only original member of the 12 apostles not to die a martyr’s death. Though the authorities tried on several occasions to kill John, he was eventually exiled to Patmos where he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ which we have in our Bibles to this day. St. John cared for the Theotokos as his own mother til her passing and then John established several churches and served them as their bishop until his natural death around the end of the first century.
His life gives us powerful insights into knowing one’s self and dealing with that knowledge as a gift rather than an excuse or a shame!
We will confront our own limits with three insights that liberate us from shame and despair. They are:
The Insight of Presence: Presence, because I cannot look into the abyss of my own soul by myself. I NEED to be in the Presence of my Creator Who loves me to begin to hold the mystery of my own personhood! I need to be present to myself in knowing myself in a sober way so that I’m not too hard on myself or too easy on myself. The maturing reality is that I struggle by myself with myself. I need the guiding Hand of the Creator Who loves me more than I know how to love to walk me through my own heart. King David realized this tendency to either make excuses or fall into despair when he cried out to God in Psalm 138 (139) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”
The Insight of Practice: Practice, because it isn’t enough to simply be aware and awake. I must “take her” into my own home; I must move beyond awareness to actual action if I am ever going to come to grips with my own limits and allow His limitlessness to strengthen me. Knowing always includes doing or the claim to know is suspect. Mere awareness without action usually becomes either an excuse or arrogance. To truly know myself and then take no action is a level of self-deception and pride that can only lead one to destruction. To truly know myself means to act to allow the Holy Spirit to transform me to be like Christ!
The Insight of Perspective: And, finally, Perspective, because it’s the delusion and arrogance of my own inflated view of myself, my abilities, and my “importance” that blind me to the eternal Perspective I MUST adopt if I am ever going to embrace my true self as the companion of God! I have to get past my small pride to be able to stand, without fear, in the expanse of His purpose for me. I have to be made larger than myself to ever become myself! I actually have to become my true self as God intended me to be. I must adopt God’s perspective about my true self if I’m ever going to have a motivation big enough, strong enough, and authentic enough to overcome the delusion of my own pride!
Today, knowing my limits has everything to do with knowing God is limitless. Standing in His presence to learn how to practice an eternal perspective sets me free from the despair of my own failings and invites me to a life of true repentance, of forever changing my mind to come into conformity to the Mind of Christ, to finally, live a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. Beloved Apostle of Christ our God, hasten to deliver a people without defense. He who permitted you to recline upon His bosom accepts you on bended knee before Him. Beseech Him, O Theologian, to dispel the persistent cloud of nations, asking for us peace and great mercy.