The Freedom of Limitations

Written by Ann Burns

April 19, 2023

When the Villains are Beautiful

Recently, I heard someone say that “our limitations are what make us human.” And not only is that a profound message, but it’s such a timely message considering our culture is drunk on the poisonous belief that there are no limits. 

We seem to view limitations as something oppressive and rigid, maybe even antediluvian. But we are finite creatures, and thus cannot escape that our lives are governed by limits.  

God is God, and I am not

Instead of lying about the limitations tethered to life, we need to embrace them honestly.  

…And with reverence. 

Limitations keep our wonder flourishing, safeguard our dignity, and inspire beauty.  

When we understand our boundaries or limitations, we are free to devote time to the things that are ours to work on.  We are freed from the chaos and able to flourish.

For example, when I was abroad, I was overwhelmed by the immense beauty of Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, as well as art by Caravaggio or Michelangelo’s Pieta. These things drew me upward in a reverie of wonder; it seemed as if my earthly vision was momentarily touched by a divine spark. But the men who built, painted, and sculpted these stunning works, knew their craft, which also meant they knew its limitations.  It is precisely the limitations of poetry that allowed Shakespeare and Spencer to compose timeless sonnets studied by scholars, students, and dreamers; their works said and revealed so much beauty, all while being confined to set rhythm and rhyme — limiting not just the number, but also what words could be used. 

Limitations allow for magnificent works of art, the glories of great cathedrals, the towering magnificence of marble statues like David, all because there are limits to the craft. And understanding those boundaries, means embracing the parameters that allow us to flourish.  

It’s when we deny those limits, demanding that anything goes, we find bugs puked onto canvases, bananas duct taped to walls, and a rambling cacophony of rage demanding we call it beauty. 

A “limitless” world ironically ends up being one with little to say or inspire. 

It is the same in our own lives.  We as women are bound by limitations. 

Too many women have been sold the lie that “she can do anything,” when in reality, this is totally false.  The fit adult woman will be surpassed in strength and stamina by the healthy teen boy. 

And she should be. 

Her body is not shaped or built like a man’s.  She is — objectively — weaker than he is.

 I remember when I was teaching, the boys and girls had their “Olympic” field day. For whatever reason, teen boys and girls were matched up against each other for races. The volunteers would manipulate the races, so that the boys had to encounter additional challenges and  the girls had less obstacles to face.  The results were that the girls would win by cheating and the boys would lose due to the random additions.   

The girls walked away surrounded by cheers of “girl power” and the boys were brutally crushed. 

Why? Because things like this perpetuate the lie that we females don’t have limitations, and that the natural male strengths and gifts are problematic

It shouldn’t surprise us that when we look at female limitations we often discover male strengths. And we don’t need to be suspicious or envious of this.   In the same vein, when we study male limitations, we realize female strength.  

We should never use our womanly strengths as a means to judge or belittle men, but rather seize our strengths and recognize that they ALSO highlight our own limitations; it is in looking and accepting our limitations that we start to see and genuinely respect the important strengths and gifts of masculinity. 

Masculinity and femininity are a complementary dance. And reverencing those limitations ensure that the dance is quite spectacular. 

When we recognize the need for no, we ultimately are leaning into a greater and more powerful yes.  

So put away the deceitful elixir of “You can do and be anything,” and instead, accept the reality and goodness of who you are and the strengths that you’ve been given.

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