It was a few years ago, and Peter and I were talking about our relentless work ethic. We both work hard, at more or less everything, all the time. Why? For years, we had agreed when people told us that we must be striving for approval, yearning to please others through our efforts. But, quite frankly, even once I more-or-less got over my desire to satisfy others, even once I learned how to say “no,” I still worked long and hard, too long and hard, much of the time.
People-pleasing is a problem of mine. But I think that over-work has more to do with my inability to understand and accept myself as a human being. I like to pretend that I am more than human. That sleep and rest and relationships aren’t necessary. That I don’t have to comply with the natural limitations of time and ability. In trying to be more-than-human, I am really just mimicking that age-old sin from the Garden of Eden. I am trying to be like God.
Much as I don’t like being limited in what I can accomplish, there is something quite freeing about it at the same time. It doesn’t all depend upon me. I am not the center of anyone’s universe, even my own. I can screw up and it won’t all fall apart. And, my limitations lead me to my neediness. My limitations lead me to dependence. Lead me to relationships–again, with God, but also with those around me. Limitations, ultimately, lead to love.
I think of our children. Their limits are more obvious than mine. William pulls his hair and mauls his eyeballs when he’s tired. Penny needs the support of the railing to get down the stairs. William has a handful of words with which to try to communicate. Penny can’t pour herself milk yet, can’t make a phone call. Their limitations force them to rely on me and Peter and all sorts of other people to help them. And it is in that place–that place of giving and receiving, of needing help and offering help–that relationships are formed, that love goes forth.
One day, my limitations will be obvious again. It may be many years from now, when arthritis or glaucoma or something else slows me down. And it will be my turn to receive from my children what I hope to give to them now. For now, my limits are less obvious. But I hope I will remember them every day, remember that I am a needy and limited human being. And that it is only in that place of need and limitation that I will understand what it means to be loved.