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When it comes limits, I’m one of those people my friend Nicole Unice would describe as having a “dessert-sized plate”—I can only add so much to my schedule, my ‘plate,’ before anxiety sets in and overwhelm begins.
This is hard for me because I live with and find community with a lot of ‘big plate’ people – the type who fill their time with amazing ministry endeavors and projects and events, all with a certain amount of adrenaline fuelling them—they find life in full schedule. Like my friend Cara, for instance, who admits she’s not only comfortable with a high amount of chaos; she actually thrives in it. Thrive and chaos are never used in the same sentence in my world.
So right on the outset, this isn’t intended for everyone. If you’re like my friend Cara and thrive when your big plate is filled to the brim, this isn’t necessarily going to resonate. But if you’re wondering if maybe you’re stretching yourself past the God-given limits of your personality and phase of life, read on, dear friend.
Here are a few sure signs you're living outside your limits:
1. The relationships closest to you are suffering. Who are you closest with (husband, children, best friend, mom)? Write your top 5 people down if you need to. Now, think about your relationship with each one. How are they fairing? Are you finding the time and emotional energy to care for these people, or are they getting the dregs of your time and love? When our plates are too full, the people we love most are usually the first to suffer. Committed, intentional time with your loved ones is crucial for your flourishing. (Nicole touches on this in a Q&A I did with her on knowing your limits—I’d encourage you to check it out!)
2. You no longer make time for the things that bring you life. Think about the things that bring you joy and refresh your spirit. My list would include taking walks in sunny weather, gardening, reading a good book, sitting down to a home cooked meal with my husband, and one-on-one time with a good friend. For you, it might look like going to see a movie, listening to music, taking a car trip to a new place, etc.
When we’re living outside our limits, often the first things to go are the things that refresh us and bring us joy. For example, I’ll skip a walk at lunch because I feel pressure to reply to all the email in my various inboxes. But when we don’t take the time to refresh ourselves, we become overwhelmed and our zest for life runs low.
Related, we might be tempted to think that God would rather us give all our free time to service projects or nightly bible studies or work or whatever good ministry opportunities crop up. But when things, even good things, overwhelm our schedule to the point where we no longer have the time or energy to enjoy what God has uniquely created us to enjoy—that’s a problem.
I’ve found some of my most worshipful times are when I’m immersed in an activity that brings me joy. Whether I’m out in nature or after a conversation with a good friend – I’m just overwhelmed with thankfulness and often pray prayers of gratitude to God for those sweet times of restoration. But those moments wouldn’t happen if I was so busy that I didn’t have time for the things my soul delights in.
3. Things that should be effortless become taxing. Think about the things you’re naturally gifted in – this can include spiritual gifts, natural talents, or skills you’ve honed over the years through hard work and study. For me, these things include writing, ministering to other women through my gifts of listening and good question asking, and strategic/creative idea curation at work.
When you’re at your best and living inside your limits, these giftings flow freely out of you. My friend Tabitha calls this getting into “flow” – when you’re in the “flow zone,” all other thoughts, distractions and anxieties are gone and you’re delighting in and completely focused on whatever the thing is you’re doing.
But when we’re living outside our limits, these natural gifts stall out. For example, I know I’m outside my limits when I find myself sitting across from a friend and have no capacity to ask good questions or listen thoughtfully to what’s going on in her life. It might not just be that I’m tired; I might be thinking about the dozens of other things I have going on that week. I might be feeling more anxious or insecure than I normally would, more self-focused and not friend-focused. What is usually a natural skill for me becomes totally nonexistent when I’m past my limits.
These are just a few key indicators that you’re living outside of your limits. If some of what I’m saying resonates with you and you think you might be trying to stuff too much on your plate, I hope you see how much might be gained by reassessing your schedule and learning to say no. When you live within the natural limits God has set for you, the relationships that are most important to you have a chance of thriving, you can better utilize the gifts you were born with, and you’ll have more time for the things that God created you to find joy and life in.
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How do you know when you’re past your limits? How do you reclaim time for the things that matter most? Share in the comments section!
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.