The Blessing of Boundaries

Original Photo by John Palmer Gregg

When I gave up social media for February and March, the first thing I felt was relief. I was reminded of my own limitations, and it felt good to realize them, and to respect them, rather than continue to ignore them or pretend they didn’t matter.

For instance, my attention span is limited. My ability to stay awake is also limited. The amount of food I can eat, without beginning to feel terrible, is limited. I literally only take up five feet and four inches of vertical space, and it’s been good for me to remember just where my fingertips end. I was never meant to carry the weight of all the world’s causes and cares. I’m not meant to have meaningful relationships with nearly one-thousand people. I don’t need to know what’s going on in every corner of every continent every single second, because ninety-eight percent of the time, I can’t do anything about it.

Our general attitude towards the internet these days reminds me of that impactful decision made way back in the garden. “You will be like God,” the serpent told Adam and Eve, “knowing good and evil.” And the two of them chose that infinity, forgetting their own small size; yet how soon they regretted all that they knew.

But isn’t that how I approach the world wide web most days? “I contain multitudes” my heart boasts in a Thanos-like voice, logging in multiple hours day and night. Then at the end of the day I find myself empty and worried, unable to lie down and sleep in peace, to trust that God alone makes me dwell in safety.* How could I, after carrying all that weight by myself for so long?

Of course I realize the irony of writing a post like this and then sharing it on the internet, but I do so with the hope that it might also give you the permission you need to step away from this infinity and focus on your own limitations.

Instead of doom scrolling for an hour, what if you took out a notebook and did some stream of conscious journaling for thirty minutes today? What if you read a good book for an hour, or took a warm bath and breathed in the fragrance of a specific oil that softens your skin? You could pick up food for someone you love and offer to sit with them while they eat. Or maybe just feed the pets and make your bed, instead of expecting someone else to do it for you. You could even wash the dishes by hand and sweep the front walkway. Try going for a walk with a friend, even if it’s cold and windy, or talking to a therapist via computer screen for the first time. Because during a global pandemic, there’s a lot to process, even without Facebook and Instagram.

You could also gather with a few friends outside in the evening, socially distanced of course, for a book club or Bible study, while wearing masks and longing to see the rest of each other’s faces. Perhaps you could spend time in prayer for friends, family, or neighbors who are grieving, and begin to act like what you say you believe again.

That life is good, but short; often chaotic, and sometimes painful. And even if you make a poor decision today, you’ll probably have the chance to correct it tomorrow. That there’s purpose to existence, and people who will always love you, no matter what you do. That there may even be a God who placed you here for such a time as this, who delights in seeing you appreciate the physical world around you.

My mind is a bag of tricks, but when I choose to feel the sun on my shoulders, it causes me to think about the one who made that sun, and to postulate that he is good. When I drink hot tea in the morning, I try to imagine Jesus sitting there with me, even though I can’t see him. When I smell the damp earth clinging to my tennis shoes, or feel the tight embrace of a friend in a parking lot, I remember that the world is more concrete than any of my thoughts, and likely more real. And the body Christ gave me to live in this world is perfectly matched with its finite environment.

“We humans are more than mere souls dressed in three dimensional skin costumes, and these bodies we inhabit are arguably the most intentional element of our earthly experience.”

I wrote that sentence in the last chapter of my first book, which came out four months ago. The book is a memoir that took me over eight years to write, about how I learned to give myself permission to grieve the losses I’d experienced in life, and I published it at the end of the most grief filled year many of us have ever seen. I had no idea that’s when it would finally get published back when I first started writing, but the timing feels appropriate now, and I’m so thankful it happened that way.

“Teach us to number our days aright,” Moses prays in the book of Numbers, “that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” For who better to instruct us in our daily habits than the One who is from everlasting? After all, he created the rituals of sunrise and sunset before any human being ever rose or slept. Does he not know what we need hour after hour, and has he not provided everything else necessary for our health and well being, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus**?

May his eternity be the one that’s written on our hearts, instead of the endless scroll of the internet.

* see Psalm 4:8

**Phillipians 4:19

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