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The Blessings of Limits

The Blessings of Limits


Speed limits. Weight limits. Human limits.

I was talking with a dear friend about the concept of limiting beliefs yesterday. For her, the concept of self-care is not about limits; what I call limits are just needs. For her, considering or dwelling on limits is dangerous, as she believes it can keep one from attaining one’s highest potential.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit since that conversation.

I don’t think I agree. If I don’t acknowledge my limits, mental, physical, psychological, and try to push on through them, bad things happen.

I certainly agree that dwelling on (much of anything or) our purported limitations cannot be helpful. I certainly agree that things like money ceilings—ideas that keep us from believing in our own power for the long haul—can be problematic.

The Perceive and Conceive Thing

I absolutely agree that how we perceive the world is, well, how we perceive the world. And that how we perceive the world affects how we experience the world.

To a certain extent, we live in the world we perceive. We live in the world we conceive in concert with the worlds others are conceiving at the same time. Similarly, we live in the world we participate in. We create the world, yes, and we create it with others.

We live in our own heads, and we are affected by how we respond to the actions and thoughts of others.

For example, I have found that when I am focused on being ashamed of the limitations of my mobility (compared to whom?), my knees hurt more, my breath is shorter, and I generally experience walking and moving around as more painful and embarrassing than at happier times,

This experience is about my own head, and by what I’ve taken in from others’.

Nonetheless, I have found the idea of limits, whether my own or others’, quite freeing. And I am even coming around to the idea that what seem like limits on the surface of things—mobility, “smarts,” characteristics marked for oppression (skin color, religion and its expressions, culture, etc.), looks, visible and invisible disability—are differences, more than limits.

Two Theologians Saving Me

What do I mean? (Yes, I realize that for some of you, this concept is obvious. I’m just getting it…but there I go again, comparing myself to an imaginary “you.”)

Well, let’s us define “limits” as those things that render us not-infinite. (And yes, we can argue about our finitude another day. I’m talking incarnate, material experience here.)

Latinx preacher on a scooter wearing black with a stole over her robe. Her scooter is rolled up onto an orange, canvas piece of fabric. She is speaking into a microphone.
Rev. Theresa Soto at their ordination

Well, I’m being saved by (Rev.) Mr. (Fred) Rogers and Rev. Theresa Soto. Rev. Soto has written extensively about disability and theology, and you probably know the Rev. Mr. Rogers.

(But did you know he had a bunch of tattoos? I just found out today!)

At any rate, I commend both of these excellent theologians to you. They are saving me today.

“In a way, you’ve already won in this world because you’re the only one who can be you. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”—Fred Rogers

Mr. Rogers wasn’t saying that just to white, temporarily able-bodied, wealthy, thin kids.

He was saying it to you.

He was saying it to me. And I heard him say it every day at 4:00. But the negative messages of the world are powerful, and I still learned that my limitations make me less than others. What others? I don’t even know.

Our Limits Are Part of Our Goodness

We have limitations. Our limitations are just as much a part of who we are as our hair presence, absence, or color. Our limitations are just as much a part of us as our accent whether we speak with our voice or with our hands.

And Mr. Rogers said that you’re the only one who can be you. It’s clear he thought that your existence, your being is a good thing.

And he’s right.

He was encouraging us. Not to be indifferent to limitations or differences. Not not to care, as it were.

yellow labrador dog wearing a red collar sniffing a white child's handBut to love them. Perhaps his most famous statement of all was, “I like you just the way you are.” (Probably just after “Won’t you be my neighbor?”) I think he liked us, sure, but I also think he loved us just the way we are.

He was encouraging us to love one another in our difference, in our limitations, in our strengths, and in our growing edges.

Other-Hatred is Self-Hatred

When we don’t, when we dismiss the personhood of someone based on disability, weight, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other quality, we are engaging in self-hatred.


Because we all have limits. If we dismiss someone else based on something we consider less-than or limiting, then we dismiss ourselves, because to be human is to be limited.

blue water into which a stone has been dropped. ripples moving outward.And, as Rev. Theresa wrote in “Denying Our Reflection: Ableism in Unitarian Universalism,” interior oppression can be even worse than that which is thrown at us from outside.

When we dismiss ourselves, there is no one else we can tell angrily to step off. There is no one else we can “reasonably” ask to rethink their position. There is no one else we can turn to lovingly to ask to be kind.

Except there is.

There is we ourselves.

Let Us Be Kind

We can be kind. We can lay our hand against our cheek and say, as Thich Nhat Hahn recommends, “Darling, I care about this suffering.”

Give it a try. I’ll wait.

“Darling, I care about this suffering.”

And once we know that we suffer from our dismissal of our humanity, how can we want to do it to others? How can we allow others to do it to us? How can we allow entire nations, religions, cultures, or abilities to be threatened, dismissed, or killed by national or cultural policies or practices?

Once we know that every characteristic is a limit—is something that is not something else—then we can live with more joy, more freedom, and less suffering.

And in the meantime, when we suffer, we can remind one another…

Darling, I care about this suffering because I love you, love you, love you— just the way you are.

Just give it a try.

I’ll wait.

yellow labrador dog wearing a red collar sniffing a white child's hand

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