Our limitations can feel like our greatest nemesis. They can feel like walls you’ll never be able to climb or obstacles you’ll never be able to hurdle. On the other side it feels like there is a freedom just sitting there untouched, that you’ll never know because you’ll never get past whatever “it” is that you’ve decided is holding you back. I find myself thinking, “if I was just better at this one thing” or “if I had more time and money then I could accomplish x, y and z”. However, when I snap out of it and force myself to work within these limits I perceive, then I discover this little secret.
Limitations allow the greatest strengths to be revealed.
Athletes know this all too well. When you have to work within certain parameters or have a limited amount of resources, only then are you forced to dig deep and figure out how to thrive within those limitations. Athletes train and train to deal with the body’s limitations. As a runner, I do those hard workouts to force my body to learn to adapt to lower oxygen levels, less fuel and tired muscles. Why should creativity be any different?
Creativity is a discipline and has to work within limitations just like anything else. Writers will tell you, sit down and force yourself to write even if its just 5 minutes a day. Our days are bound by countless limits such as demands of a family or job, appointments, home maintenance…the list is endless. But we can’t see these limitations as a negative or a hindrance. They are a gift and God’s mercy to spur us on to reveal His glory with our lives and our art. I can’t begin to list all my limitations as a parent but God gave me the opportunity to add beauty to three little works of art with my daughters and help them be bearers of His image as well.
I’m dependent on God’s grace because of what I lack but these limitations also serve as an arrow that point me to the work God has set out for me that reveals His glory.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
One of my favorite books on creativity is by Erwin McManus called “The Artisan Soul”. He talks about how in Genesis, with each new creation, God had new limits and rules to have to work within. Light had rules to obey, therefore water had to work within the boundaries of light’s rules. Animals all had rules to exist within. Each species was created with its own limitation but they also revealed God’s greatest creativity and glory such as gills for fish to breathe underwater or wings for birds to be bound to the sky for travel. By the time God was to create human life, He had the most boundaries and rules to have to abide by. Man had to be able to exist in this universe already created. Yet man was the most complex and intricate of all of God’s creation. The more intricate the creation, the greater the boundaries and limitations to have to create within. I cannot say it better than to quote a profound paragraph from the book,
“In some ways, we could say God painted Himself into a corner. When God created us He didn’t have a lot of options. We had to be able to breathe oxygen; we had to be able to drink water; we had to be able to eat what the earth provided; we had to fit the canvas. A lesser artist would have felt paralyzed, incapable of completing this masterpiece. For God, though, the opposite was true. He reveled in the challenge. He took great pleasure in creating a creature whose material is the substance of the earth and whose essence is the image of God. And yes, this is a wonderful reminder that we are a work of art, and the limitations that often lead us to conclude that we’re only human should move us to celebrate that we are in fact incredibly human.”
Before creation, God was limitless. But for the sake of creation, He was willing to work within parameters and boundaries! Jesus was limitless before coming to earth. His greatest act was to take on the limitations of becoming human and walking the earth. This act led to the greatest sacrifice of His life on the cross and therefore led to our greatest freedom.
My 6 yr. old creates with whatever she finds around the house. She isn’t thinking about what she can’t do with what she doesn’t have. She’s thinking about what she can do with what she does have. The other day I said I was going to go buy a valentine’s day wreath and she piped up, “I can make one!” A few minutes later she came downstairs with a wire hangar she had bent into a circle and began gluing red pieces of paper along it. I love her eagerness to work with her limited resources which she doesn’t even see as limited. She sees what she has as possibilities.
Creativity needs boundaries to reach its greatest potential. The famous painter, Michelangelo, painted one of the greatest masterpieces, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, within several limitations. One of them being that he was primarily a sculptor! But the pope at the time who commissioned him, insisted he be the one who painted it so Michelangelo reluctantly signed the contract to do it. It is said that he studied scripture and took his inspiration directly from the bible versus from the established traditions of sacred art. An assignment he was reluctant to accept, to be accomplished through a medium he didn’t consider to be his forte resulted in one of the greatest works of art known to man. The Sistine Chapel has over 300 figures displayed, an incredible feat alone to paint that many in one body of work, and it took over 4 years to complete.
We’ve been made to bear the image of an incredible artist. God showed us what can be possible when creativity works within its boundaries. Do not view these boundaries with disdain as a vice that is holding you back.
The limitations of being only human are actually what makes us amazingly human and reveal God’s glory.