One of the hardest things to do in life is to acknowledge our limitations. It can feel threatening to ourselves to admit that there are limits to what we can handle. And it can also feel like we are letting others down when we aren’t able to live up to the limitless expectations of the people and the world around us. So, we spend much of our lives ignoring the reality that “we can’t do it all”—and most of us have gotten really good at this self-deception. However, there are seasons and circumstances of life when the reality of our limitations hits us with a force we hadn’t prepared for and we can no longer ignore. These circumstances can drive us from a perception of limitlessness to hopelessness, shame, and despair.
But what if these circumstances can lead us to a life of freedom from both the unrealistic expectations of perfection and the hopelessness of shame and despair? I believe they can through the gift of God’s grace! However, God doesn’t force His grace on us. We must be willing to recognize our need for it and open ourselves to receive it. Here are some practices that can help you receive God’s grace and extend grace to yourself and others.
Create space. This may be hard to do if you are used to the pattern of always striving to meet expectations, but it is often the necessary first step in recognizing and receiving grace. Slow down, at least for a moment, to create space to catch your breath and slow down your body and mind. Turn off the hustle, turn off the noise and be still. (Psalm 46)
Honestly confess. Get honest with yourself and honest with God about your limitations. Confess, without judgement or rationalization, these limitations to God. “I am overwhelmed,” “I am tired,” “I don’t have the answer,” “I don’t know what to do,” “I am afraid,” “I am impatient,” and, “I need help” are some examples of confessing our limitations. (Romans 12:3, 1 Peter 5:6-10, Hebrews 4:14-16)
Listen for God’s truth. When we begin to identify and confess our limitations, it is easy for us to slip into a judgmental narrative about ourselves. We can begin to label ourselves as unworthy, unlovable, unacceptable, or a disappointment. But what is God’s truth? The God of the universe responds to our brokenness and humanity with limitless grace. God knows our limits better than we do and calls us forgiven, worthy, lovable, and precious. Who are we or anyone else to challenge what the God of the universe has to say about us? Being confronted with our limitations is a gift. It’s the invitation to trade in the prison of the lie of perfection for the spacious freedom of God’s grace and faithfulness. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, John 3:16, and many others)
Ask, “What does faithfulness look like?” As you settle into the truth of your identity in God’s grace, reset your expectations of yourself. Identify the things in life that are outside of your control and surrender them to God. Accept that all your striving isn’t going to change these things anyway. Then, with the parts of your life you are responsible for, ask, “What does faithfulness look like?” In doing so, you will define your responsibility through God’s eyes and not your own or someone else’s. And, when you struggle with surrender or faithfulness, go back and journey through steps 1-4 again.
Be present. We can’t show up for others in a healthy way when we are exhausted and unhealthy. And we can’t extend grace and peace to those around us when we aren’t experiencing it ourselves. Deceptively, all the striving, working, and overextending we do in the hope of achieving peace and comfort for ourselves and those around us robs us of very thing we are working towards. Receiving God’s grace and extending it to ourselves frees us to be a healthy, gracious, and peaceful presence in the lives of those around us. We can’t share what we don’t have. Receiving God’s grace and extending grace to yourself can be one of the most unselfish practices you do.