Embracing Limitations

Waiting at the counter, the barista asked about my plans for the day.  As a frequent customer he recognizes me, knows my drink, and often makes friendly small talk.  As we spoke I asked him about his plans, prompting him to make a comment not just about his plans for the day, but his future. 

It was simple.  No doubt we have all said something similar, but it struck me.  Walking away his words echoed in my mind, and I felt saddened by his statement. 

The specifics aren’t important, but the essence is because we all say it:

 “When I am _______ then I will _______.” 

I walked away heavy hearted because I could relate.  I have found myself saying the same thing and I have heard countless friends echo similar sentiments:

When the baby starts sleeping through the night, then I can…

When the kids are out of diapers, then we can…

When I graduate, then I can…

When we go on vacation, then we can…

When I get that job, then I can…

When I reach my goal, then I can…

When I finish this project, then I can…

When I lose 10 pounds, then I can…

The possibilities are endless, but we get the point.  When’s and then’s. 

How often do we find ourselves stuck in this mindset?  At first glance these when and then statements appear to be dreams of what the future may hold.  And at times they can be.  But they can also be ways we cleverly postpone our hopes and dreams.  Or a way for us to mask our discontentment in our current season of life.

Psalm 139 is an often-quoted Psalm that speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us and how we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  But today as I read this Psalm, what struck me was my Bible’s commentary on verse 5:

You hem me in, behind and before,

And lay your hand upon me;


Depending upon the translation, at first glance this verse appears to refer to God’s constant presence.  Before today, that was always my assumption when reading it too.

The commentary however, explained David was referring to God using circumstances to limit David’s actionsDavid isn’t questioning these limiting circumstances either, he is praising and trusting God.  In fact in verse 6 he declares:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high; I cannot attain it.


David wasn’t asking God to change his circumstances or his limitations.  He was acknowledging God as the source of his limitations, God’s presence in his limitations, God’s understanding, God’s wisdom, and God’s good plans for his life.  David embraced his limiting circumstances because he trusted God had a reason and a plan for his life.

The when’s and then’s highlight our limiting circumstances and how we want to escape them.  But what if, like David, our limitations aren’t meant to be escaped but embraced?  What if God is using our circumstances to limit our actions so we don’t fall into familiar patterns?  Maybe our limiting circumstances are an invitation to try something new.  Or an invitation to ask God for wisdom or direction instead of our plans. 

What if our limitations are meant to teach us?  To keep us fully present?   To slow us down?  To remind us of our own inadequacy?  To point us to our lack.  Our need?  For Jesus.  For grace.  For wisdom.  For strength.  For peace.  For surrender. For community.

Today let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the when and then statements we have been declaring in our lives.  Are our when’s and then’s simply dreams or are we postponing dreams or cleverly masking our discontentment?  What limiting circumstances can we surrender to God?  Trusting he has a good plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11).  Looking to see what he can teach us as we walk through our limiting circumstances.  Looking to God for wisdom and trusting him.