The Gift of Limitations

guest post by Sara Hagerty

It was a rambling college-town that hosted the race that was to be my last for a long time. It is a town where narrow dirt-and-dust roads lead to horse farms with near-perfect views of the Blue Ridge and millionaires shamelessly drive beat-up old Volvos. Eccentric.

Every year, the allure of this four-miler, with its humanitarian push and socialite atmosphere, makes runners out of walkers and athletes out of those who don’t like to sweat. Women train all summer long to run Garth Road on Labor Day weekend.

I was one of many.

I’d placed in my age group in the past and after seeing the winning time from prior years, I decided that I wanted to try to win this race. I spent my summer mornings following a training plan that my friend (who was also a running coach) devised for me. On race-day, however, I hadn’t accounted for the handful of Olympic Trial-ers who were, unexpectedly, going to run the race this year. I’d also trained at 6:00am during an unusually cool summer. The start time for this race was 8am and we ran on black-top roads in an 80-degree thick heat, that day.

I ignored the weather and I focused on the runners around me edging their feet towards the starting line, and on the split-times I’d written in permanent marker onto my hand.

And three miles later I passed out.

Well — before I passed out (in delirium), apparently I stopped to ask the fans lined up along the race course just where I might find the finish line. The heat and the pace set by the top runners and my thick-headedness made for the perfect cocktail. I served myself up a heat stroke.

Weeks later, as I researched the implications of this heat stroke, I came across information that indicated that people who suffer heat strokes are often the ones who don’t know their own limits.


That was nine years ago. Before children. Before the circuitous path to adoption. Before the pursuit of our children’s hearts post-adoption. Before yet-longer years of infertility and losing my dad and rocking a babe to sleep at 3am and riding the roller coaster of my husband’s fledgling business.

And here I am, now, with six children and the most predominant data point I have of myself and my life is this: I’m limited.

I’m grossly limited.

My limitations press in around me, all the time. The babe wakes at the very moment the toddler decides he’s ready to potty train and my thirteen year-old wants to talk about her heart. Not only can I not avoid these limitations, but they *are* me. I could add much more to this list, but you probably have your own list to harken to as you read this. I suspect I’m not alone and that this issue of limitations is not merely the struggle of the mother of six who moonlights as a writer. But even the mother of two or three (or one) or the woman who finishes a deadline at work just to face another, all while her dry cleaning collects dust, awaiting a pick-up.

At twenty-five I wanted to conquer my flesh. (I wanted every area of my life to have a six-minute-mile pace.)

But these days, I have learned that what I really want is to surrender it.

More than resenting my failures, I’m starting to (more deeply) resent the days when my heart sinks because I see my failures. This should not be so.

Because in the kingdom of God, it is weakness that incites the miracles. It is weakness that incites the gaze of our Father God. Today, I want those stories more than I want a six-minute-mile pace.

More than being able to rock the babe, potty-train the toddler and solve my thirteen year-old’s problems (all at once), I want that deep peace that comes with surrender to God. The deep peace that accompanies the safest of friendships. (He never asked me to be limitless. He just asked me to be His.)

This surrender is one of the most becoming things I’ve seen in a person. I’ve found myself scouring faces for it in the way a freshman does at the senior class on her first day of school. What is it that I see in these few sages in my life who finally rest at peace in their pursuit of God — who are relentless but not fearful, reaching but not anxious, determined but not proudly ambitious?

I want that.


You see, being settled within my limitations — seeing them as extensive and forever-lasting and likely growing, as they are — doesn’t actually relegate me to a boring and “mundane” life. It sets me up for the miraculous.

I suppose it’s touching the part of me that sees the value of putting down my phone and sitting in the quiet, before God, with the acute sense of these limits that I now know I have.

In a given day, faced with all these needs and my inability to even come close to meeting them … I can push harder and plan better. I can Get Things Done™ and multi-task to keep up and shame myself when I don’t. I can scroll for minutes or hours and remind myself of every other person who’s hustling and “killin’ it” with their life.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In a moment where I simply can’t meet the expectations of the people and the projects in front of me, I can use the midnight hours to work and sweat or run it around my head in sleeplessness.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In the swirl of my children’s ever-growing needs I can solicit even more help. Make more appointments. Research more options. Troubleshoot.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

The quiet spaces in my life offer me perspective: I’m only five loaves and two fish away from some of the greatest miracles in my life.

His simple words in Matthew 14:18: “bring them here to me.“

Perhaps today is your day to put down your phone full of lists and apps and reminders and pins that remind you about the wells that you’re not digging and the birthday parties you’re not throwing and the workout you didn’t finish and you take what little you have and bring it to Him.

Who knows but that basketfuls of overflow might fill your soul?

When you have finished this post, check out Sara’s her new book, Unseen. We will have it available for you in our FamilyLife store in the next few weeks to allow you to be encouraged by Sara and also invest in our mission to build marriages and families instead of adding to the bottom line at amazon. God has given Sara a message for this generation and I hope you too will be inspired by this call to friendship with Jesus

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10 thoughts on “The Gift of Limitations”

  1. I feel Sara’s pain. Fortunately – sort of! – I learned about the limitations ‘thing’ in my mid-twenties. I became deathly ill and had totally worn myself down to the point of being banished to bedrest for THREE WEEKS!

    It’s a humbling lesson to learn the world WILL get along without you for that long.

    My doctor impresssed upon me a valuable principle I still cling to forty years later: “You need to learn a difficult word in the English language. The word is ‘No,’ and if you don’t start using it, you’re going to die.”

    Got it!

  2. I’ll be reading this again. I cannot even begin to express how much I needed it. In the Lord’s providence it fit perfectly with our SS lesson y’day morning from Luke 8 about distraction from knowing God. Which dovetailed wonderfully with the main teaching from Psalm 55 on insights into our fear of men and how to regulate our fears with faith. The last couple weeks (at least–the Lord knows better) I’ve seen nearly every plan of mine thwarted or hindered or altered in some measure, most often dramatically. From large-scale to the minutiae. My response has been to be irritated and frustrated and to dig my heels in to get more organized and do better and try harder, only to meet with more sabotage. And when I finally began to wear thin I prayed “Lord please help me humble myself enough to ask for Your help!” And within 24 hours He showed me what a prideful prayer that was, bc the Reality is that He had sent each of those “mercies” (& a dear sister to describe them with that term) to humble me. I don’t need His help to humble myself, lest I take some glory from Him, but He is mercifully humbling me via all these ways and means. Showing me my vast limits. And puny desires. I’m quite weary of myself right now yet I still feel this pull to yank up my bootstraps and fix it all myself!!! I’ve learned in the last 5 or 6 or 7 years how much I hate being weak–I don’t want to need Jesus. I want to save myself! It’s a hideous thing to recognize and sometimes He helps me surrender and get a big whiff of the sweetness of it, but I find myself back at it again, self-sufficiently relying on limited, deluded me to make the world spin. Ugh… Who will save me from this body of death? I know Who–Jesus Christ my Lord. Thank you for this post.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! Peace that comes from God is such a gift and I, too, have been learning more about it over the past few years. I love that in my weakness, He can show his strength – and miracles can happen! Praise God for His gift of peace that He gives to His children!

  4. Bless you Sarah, wasn’t able to attend church this morning, but I bless the name of the Lord who used you to minister to my heart.

    1. Hi Susan, Sara’s book is releasing tomorrow and will be available on the FL store in the next few weeks.

  5. Absolutely love this. I am grateful to see post from people who are juggling more than 2 kids and the career. So grateful! Here I sit with my day-timer open trying to “do better” at being organized and Jesus reminded me, as I scanned emails, that your “Ever Thine Home” post earlier this week encouraged me. So I chose to read this post for today. Thank you for the water to my soul!

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