I have been thinking a lot recently about overthinking (I know). I caught myself multiple times one morning saying to myself, “…but I’m probably reading into it.” I realized I was giving a lot of mental energy and brain space to how I imagined people were feeling about me or perceiving me, without a whole lot of proof of what was actually true.
I read some inspiring Pinterest quote later on that said something to the effect of: Unless someone tells me there is a problem, I’m going to assume things are fine. I shouldn’t be wasting time creating problems that might not even be there. My counselor tells me I have a tendency towards “catastrophic thinking” which surely doesn’t help me in this area, but we are working on it.
Because here is the thing. No matter how perceptive or intuitive I am, I might be wrong. I might think someone is upset with me because their text was shorter than it usually is, or imagine that someone isn’t happy about something because they didn’t talk to me about it, but I could be making it all up. What a waste!
And no matter if I am right or wrong, I don’t have the capacity to be carrying all of that if someone isn’t going to bring it to me themselves. It gets us nowhere, and it’s heavy. I’m not strong enough to carry all of that around all the time.
If this upcoming season of parenthood is teaching me one thing, it is that I have limits and they are beautiful. I am really grateful when life teaches me that I have limitations. It frees me from trying to be everything to everyone. I know that in this next season, I cannot carry all the things that I have always tried to carry.
In the most crass way, I need to stop caring so much (or carry-ing, get it?). But often what we need is a reality check that we are finite, we have limits, we cannot do all the things and care about all the things that we think we should.
Example A, social media. Admit it, you cannot care about the opinions, life updates, highlights, and horrors of over 1,000 people’s lives. You just can’t. Once a friend and I were talking about the world news and she said, “We were never meant to have access to all the information that we do. It’s more than we are capable of carrying.” As incredible as our connected world is, it places a burden on us that we were never meant to hold.
Thank goodness for the Body of Christ. The beauty of it is that while I cannot possibly care about and be involved in every good and righteous cause on this earth, collectively, we can. Thank the Lord for the people who care deeply about the ocean. I love sea turtles, but I use plastic straws. I just don’t have the capacity to be deeply involved in every major need that our world faces. But because you care about the things that God uniquely placed on your heart, and I care about the passions He gave me, and so on with every person here, we can trust that rightly placed energy and passion will produce a better world with healthier people.
One of the best and most loving things we can do for ourselves and the people around us is to admit we have limits. I recently was able to teach a workshop to incoming college freshmen, and I introduced them to Dunbar’s theory. In the most basic form, he believed that we as humans have the capacity for:
- 1500 people you recognize
- 500 acquaintances
- 150 meaningful contacts
- 50 friends
- 15 good friends
- 5 loved ones
This blew their precious little minds. Based on their social media filled lives, they were convinced they would recognize more than 1500 people, and were confused by how you could only have 5 loved ones (in my interpretation, this doesn’t necessarily mean family, but 5 of your closest people – think Peter, James, and John for Jesus.)
We are so opposed to and frustrated by the idea that we aren’t limitless. We think we can care about every person we’ve ever known, and guess what? Again, you just can’t. Acknowledge that sometimes a relationship was for a season, and it isn’t ruined or a failure if it doesn’t last forever. Love people well for the time that God gives them to you. Do your job well for the time that you are in it. Dedicate yourself to the right things, the few things, that God is truly inviting you into right now. For me, in this next season, my focus will be shifting from caring for and investing in quite a few “kids” to mostly being focused on one very tiny, beautiful boy.
Give yourself permission to acknowledge your limitations, and focus in on the tasks and people that God is calling you to focus on right now. It isn’t permission to ghost people or say mean things like, “you’re not my priority anymore” – but maybe it is an invitation to examine how spread thin you are, and that maybe you aren’t doing anything really well, because you’re trying to do everything. Every yes is a no to something else.
My workshop attendees had a really hard time believing they were allowed to say no to anything. But I encouraged them to take a page out of Jesus’ book (figuratively speaking), where He often demonstrates saying no, walking away, and being alone, not because He even had limits but because it was healthy and good. If Jesus chose not to do everything for everyone, then it isn’t actually holy that you’re trying to do it. It’s most likely to make yourself feel good (it’s harsh, but I’m with you.).
The question at the end of the day in regards to all of this is often, “What am I trying to prove or earn?” And will the endless efforts and striving actually get you there? Probably not. Our limitations point us towards the unearned, graciously given, love of Christ. We are worthy and loved regardless of how much we accomplished today, apart from how many friends we keep in touch with, entirely unrelated to how impressive we are. Freely given, the love and hope that Jesus offers us lets us acknowledge and live within our finitude, knowing that we are the best versions of ourselves when we say “yes” to the invitations He is offering us, and “no” to everything else.