loving the limits
Beginning today, I am giving up the internet for the remainder of Lent.
I decided it this morning with no forethought, and today has confirmed its necessity.
For a few years, something about my life has not felt right. I yearn for wholeness and peace, of the sort I imagine come along with baking bread regularly and hiking nearby trails and writing poetry in a sunlit window while the cat dozes on the bed. I have a dream life that involves a darling, wood-floored house and a massive garden and chickens and maybe goats and homemade everything and long walks, both morning and evening, and eyelet curtains and a clean desk right under the window. It’s got yoga and running and reading and writing and arithmetic now and then and someday the most curious children you can imagine. Also, good neighbors and dinner parties and leisurely breakfasts with my husband, long afternoons playing the piano, then cooking dinner together while Miles Davis pipes from the living room speakers.
But my life is so darn crowded. No time for kneading, for hiking, for finding words other than the ones I need for school papers and Sunday morning prayers. You know this kind of crowded. No margins crowded. No white space crowded. Text, text, text, stuff, stuff, stuff, pictures upon pictures. It’s not a bad life; in fact I’d say this semester is the best I’ve had in a while. But it’s still draining.
Ruth Haley Barton, whose book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, has become my conversation partner for the semester, identified my problem for me: it’s failing to know my limits and then to keep to them. It’s a problem common to leader-types, including pastors. We think we can do everything. It shows up on personality tests as narcissism, about as unflattering a quality as I can imagine. More than unflattering, though, this belief in my ability to do everything slips quickly into sin. I fail to acknowledge my human limits. In other words, I think I can be like God.
Barton outlined a handful of clues that you may have this limit-denying problem. Down the margin of the page, I made a little checkmark next to each one that’s true of my life. By the end, I had seven checkmarks. Seven! Apparently, I’m a narcissistic, limit-ignoring mess.
There on the page was the major culprit. (Hint: it doesn’t show up in my dream life.) A computer. That horrible, wonderful machine that controls my life.
Surfing the internet was listed among several “escapist behaviors.” That caught me off guard. I know I’m online a lot, but it’s all legitimate, right? I have to clip coupons, discover etymologies, birthday shop, plan dinner, get directions, take breaks. With the exception of the last one, which is deliberately escapist, I can make a good argument for all of my online activities. Then I remembered the video we watched in chapel this morning, which depicted Jesus going out into the desert for forty days, leaving everything behind, even the legitimate things.
Against his mettle, my justifications for retaining rights to the internet fell flat. Legitimate as my activities are, they’re not essential to human life, nor to my life in particular. And that’s part of Ruth Haley Barton’s point: it’s my limits that I have to recognize. Other people have other limits, and the lines fall differently. But, for Lent at least, my limit falls just short of the internet.
(In order to avoid becoming a delinquent student and friend, I’ve allowed myself a few exceptions: e-mail, course management, and this blog. Also finding directions on googlemaps and making arrangements for our vacation this summer. Not that you need to know all of that, but if I say it here, maybe I’ll feel the pressure of accountability.)
By imposing this limit on myself, I’m hoping to clear some space in my life. I’m deleting text so roomy margins can grow. I’m already excited for what this might mean: walks with Dan, homemade bread, time to write poetry and to dream. I’m a little worried that I won’t know how to appreciate space and silence, and that I’ll fill it right back up. I hope I do a little of each.
I’m also hoping that setting this small limit will help me understand some more significant limits. Barton names a few: “There are the limits associated with this particular season of my life. There are the limits of this particular community and this particular set of relationships. There are the limits of this calling that God has placed on my life, which means that I am not available for other callings.”
I have a hard time with those things. I get antsy about this stage of life. I long to be out of this apartment and into the house of my dream. I second-guess God’s call. But this is where I am, who I am. And I want to love that, to love the limits.