I remember feeling so frustrated with my inability to speak Ukrainian well.
My husband knew the language perfectly, after all. Well, if not perfectly, nigh unto it. He could easily pass for Ukrainian in most situations.
Foreign languages were not new to me. As a young adult, languages were my thing. I had mastered Spanish and given considerable time to Chinese and French. I arrived in Ukraine already trying to speak what few phrases I knew. I wasn’t intimidated, and was ready to master this slavic tongue with gusto.
Fast forward a year or two. Despite being able to carry on a conversation and get around the city, I was extremely frustrated with my lack of progress. Ukrainian had proved to be the most difficult language I had yet encountered. I also hadn’t counted on how taxing pregnancy and having new babies could be. I was at home much of the time caring for our home and my daughter(s), so I didn’t have as much interaction in the language as I felt I needed. In fact, I only saw Ukrainians briefly while on errands or at church.
And yet it seemed the whole of my identity hinged on how well I could, or couldn’t speak. Many people we met for the first time immediately remarked on our language abilities. Mine were always inferior to Joshua’s, and sometimes I was told this to my face. It didn’t help that he was constantly being lauded for how unbelievably clean, correct, and without accent his Ukrainian was. I felt confident in my ability to learn it, but supremely frustrated by circumstances that made that difficult. And I would wince every time I bumbled through a conversation, missed a word, or forgot to conjugate correctly. Which was often.
I don’t remember exactly how I woke up to the fact that I had made an idol of this language. I wanted it so badly that I was bitter at God for not allowing me to have it, and I lived in constant angst over this one issue. I was also jealous of my husband’s fine abilities. When I realized all this, I had to get on my face before God and ask Him to change my heart and my priorities.
It isn’t the first, or only time, that I haven’t responded well to my limitations. And I’ve had quite a few. I’ve been limited by my hair being difficult, by hypoglycemia, by being nervous and uncomfortable in the spotlight, by pregnancy and birth, by long periods of illness for the kids, by isolation, by my location not affording opportunities or fellowship, and by my energy levels. Nor am I somehow unique. In fact, I can think of many others with more debilitating limits than mine.
I’ve had to learn that a negative response — frustration, anger, bitterness, and comparison— gets me absolutely nowhere. Recently, as a set of frustrating circumstances found me confronting my limitations yet again, I thought a lot about what kind of responses God desires. Here is what I found myself pondering:
God wants me to accept His grace for my limits.
This winter, when I was quite sick throughout my first trimester, a truth became very personal to me, and has been a comfort in my weakness. Quite simply: either God has chosen to give me something, or He hasn’t. In John it says, “…a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) During that season, I had very little energy. I hardly had strength to care for my family. And the basic reason was that God had not chosen to give it to me at that time. Knowing that God planned for me to be in that difficult place, that it wasn’t a mistake, that He had a purpose and fruit to bear in it– made it easier to walk through.
God has a purpose for good in our limitations. (Romans 8:28) And He also appropriates the needed grace for us to accept them. When Paul besought God to remove a significant limitation from his life, Jesus appeared to him and responded with these wonderful words:
“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
There is grace from God for our limits. And it is sufficient for whatever we’re facing.
God wants me to give thanks.
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God…concerning you.” (1 Thes. 5:18) Giving thanks isn’t just a mandatory duty. It keeps our perspective on the good and beautiful and puts happiness into our mindset. Gratefulness can be a lifeline that keeps us sane when discouragement would otherwise get the better of us.
Thanking God for our limitations, and in spite of them, is a mark of our faith in Him. It’s like a statement, a confirmation that we really do trust His plan for our lives. In it we recognize that His power and purposes supercede our weakness. Now that is something to be thankful for!
God wants to draw me closer to Him.
“Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him.” (Ps. 62:8)
If we did not have limits, weaknesses, and trials, would we run to God? Would we need to seek His help? How would we ever see him work mightily on our behalf? Would we pray?
David said, “…in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” (Psalm 57:1)
There is a sweet closeness and trust that results when a woman runs to God in her weakness, with her limitations. Confiding our pain to the Savior and experiencing His comfort, compassion, and help produces a sweet fellowship that cannot be had any other way.
God wants to shine His glory through my limitations.
The Bible says that we have been given treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Gideon was young, inexperienced and fearful. David was a simple shepherd, despised by his elder brothers. Paul trembled and wasn’t eloquent. He had a debilitating “thorn in the flesh”. Daniel had lost his family, his country and his manhood. Peter was impulsive and spoke before he thought. Moses couldn’t articulate well. Mary was unmarried.
God shines His glory through the lives of limited people. This has been a huge source of encouragement to me during times of weakness. Though I am weak, limited, unable, God can still get glory and show His power in my life.
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
The power of Christ upon me. As if that wasn’t astounding enough, look at what Paul says next:
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
I have often lamented that I couldn’t do more for God on account of my limitations. But God, who is seeing the whole picture, says that He receives glory when His power can shine in spite of, and even because of, my weakness.
God wants me to keep going.
Finally, I must keep trying. Using the gifts and resources God has given in this season, I need to do heartily what I can do. Some limits can be overcome, or are lifted over time. And others… well we do get better at learning to live with them.
If you have limitations, (and who doesn’t?) be encouraged. They will not prevent you from accomplishing the purposes that God has in store for your life. They will not keep you from the work that God has for you to do. They may be frustrating, but they will craft you into an overcomer if you keep persevering in obedience and faithfulness.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6:9)
What am I missing? What perspectives have helped you respond well to your limitations?