I’s the Limit

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THE TITLE SOUNDS A LOT LIKE A MOTIVATIONAL POSTER that might be hanging in a fluorescent-lit office space somewhere. I don’t mean for it to. But I guess motivational posters do have their moments. (I mean the “Hang in There” kitten is a classic, right?). What I wanted to say with this title — and I almost never have a title prior to completing my writing, but this one was buzzing around — is that limits are all in our heads. And I don’t just mean, “we can do anything if we set our minds to it” (another poster). The definition of what a limit even is varies so much from person to person that I am really asking, What does “limit” mean?

I was thinking the other day how limits are necessary in order to live life effectively. Speed limits, age limits, seating capacity limits, and service limits to only those vaccinated, to name a few examples. (If business owners choose to do this, I support it 100%). We are always told to set limits for ourselves. That is unless we are being told that there are no limits. Pretty confusing, if you ask me. So let’s go to the etymology, shall we? (While many of my students tend to head over to Webster’s to commence their essays — even though I forbid dictionaries as a source — I, myself, often fall back on Oxford Languages to get things started). So the word came from the Latin limes, meaning a “boundary” or “frontier.” I mean right there, that sounds like two different things to me. (At first I thought limes, like the things you put in your Gin and Tonic. But no). So those two words — boundary and frontier — conjure up very different visuals for me; a boundary is something you don’t cross, while a frontier holds promise of things to come. Those are my connotative associations. But these conflicting (for me, at least) origin words make sense of my original thesis, that a limit can be many things to many people.

*By the way, Webster’s defines the word as, “bounds, restrains, or confines.” And this, my dear students, is why we don’t use dictionary definitions, because they are concretized in connotations based solely upon present societal thinking. #nodictionaries

This is starting to become a blog on connotations and denotations. Oh well, that’s okay. But I need to interject yesterday’s sermon here; you knew it was coming. (My Sunday blog turned into a Monday blog, by the way, because my daughter and I were putting my new bed together last night. It’s almost done, okay!?). Anyway, Pastor Nick was in for the on-the-mend Pastor Smith. And he shared with us his message entitled, “Growing Up in Love.” Pastor Nick encouraged us to take “ails” as joy. As in, “Count it all joy when you meet various trials” (James 1:2). Because I’m on this limits thing, I was seeing the ails as limits, or what we tend to consider limits until we start counting those things as joy. I came up with some examples pretty quickly, though they are fairly mundane. Like last week I was on my union’s Zoom meeting. Now I have been lamenting the fact that I am still teaching remotely, having yet to secure an on-campus teaching gig this side of the Rio Grande. Well, after listening to the chaos of university mandates, recommendations, and suggestions, and then the confusion and anxiety in the voices of my fellow faculty members heading back to campus, I said a little thank-you prayer. Seems God might just be sparing me from the messiness of yet another school year plagued by the plague. So I am going to take that ail as a joy, for now anyway.

Our relationships can be limiting, too. Maybe we could ask ourselves if they are boundaries or frontiers. Pastor Nick suggested yesterday that God may well limit our contact with certain family members because we are putting them before God. Interesting idea, and tough for some of us to hear. But the Bible says, depending upon translation, that we are supposed to “hate” our family if we are to truly be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Now, again, the connotation of hate is in question here. I don’t think we’re supposed to sit back and talk bad about our kin. We love them — mostly! But the idea, apparently, is that if we get too caught up in all things earthly, including its humans, that we lose sight of the biggest picture, God. We then limit our relationship with God. Now, for some this could sound super harsh, and for others it is actually a watered-down interpretation. I’m still grappling with all sorts of things, so I’m just sharing my thinking process here.

In church yesterday we were also reminded to keep an open heart. (See, we have so much capacity for love that we can be close to man and God)! Even when folks have hurt us Christians — and lots of other people — we believe that we are to keep our hearts “sensitive” as Pastor Nick called it. And I see the limit theme here, too: we limit our vast capacity for love when we harden our hearts. It’s on us. (By the way, I had all these classic rock songs about hard hearts spinning around my brain as I listened to this part of the sermon, but I couldn’t nail down one specific one. Can you?).

The bottom line — right now anyway, because the bottom line is unstable to say the least — is that love has no limits, in its original form. That’s my thought. I mean most everyone knows this scripture in one form or another:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Sounds like love is a straight-up frontier, unless we choose to make it a barrier. Sounds like life is a frontier, too, ready to explore (but not colonize, please). I’m just going to keep on picturing frontiers — which is especially easy to do out here in the wild, weird, west. This won’t be a practice of denying that which is painful, but simply one of seeking out hope in even the darkest of situations. Easier said than done, but I am going to try real hard to start limiting my limits from now on.

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