I admit it, I’ve been jealous of people who have been isolating at home without kids during this pandemic. And all that talk about how we can binge-watch Netflix while learning Spanish and crochet and making sourdough after we’ve cleaned out every single cupboard… it grates. Yes, I have been watching more TV than usual and, yes, I have made sourdough (poorly), but having four kids at home means it’s a juggle to do all the things. All the things are not getting done.
Those four little people have put a serious damper on my productivity, and I struggle with the limitations of that… I struggle with limitations all together, but not in a good way.
It can seem like a noble pursuit to be always pushing against your limits. I’m still working my way out of an unhealthy mindset of ministry where a good girl is one who’s run off her feet, forever saying “yes,” and prioritising everyone else’s needs not out of love but out of obligation.
But it’s sin that has us forever pushing at the boundaries — dissatisfied with Eden and grasping for more, instead of being content that we already have everything we need. Not satisfied with being made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-7), the first Adam wanted to become divine (Gen 3:5). The second Adam (that’s Jesus) instead lay down his divine nature (Phil 2:6) to embrace the limitation of the human nature.
To be limited is a very human thing.
Some have argued it is a very divine thing also.
Nancey Eiesland, the late disability theologian, offered an image of God with a major physical disability:
I saw God in a sip-puff wheelchair, that is, the chair used mostly by quadriplegics enabling them to maneuver by blowing and sucking on a strawlike device. Not an omnipotent self-sufficient God, but neither a pitiable suffering servant. In this moment, I beheld God as a survivor, unpitying and forthright. I recognized the incarnate Christ in the image of those judged “not feasible,” “ unemployable,” with “questionable quality of life.” Here was God for me.Eiesland, Nancy L. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994, 89.
It’s an image of God that, for most, is unfamiliar and provocative, perhaps even offensive at worst. But the images of God the bible presents are often the same. As I’ve said earlier, there are some that would make most grown men squirm.
I’m not sure that I want to go as far as Eiesland and suggest that God is innately disabled or limited. I value her voice and I think she had to be that provocative to get the rest of us to move some way, but her image of the Disabled God is alienating for those with intellectual disabilities, or for those of us who are temporarily able-bodied (that’s code for non-disabled).
Having said that, there are a lot of Scriptures that make space for thinking of God as disabled. Some of the Psalms describe God as impaired, particularly deaf and mute (Psa 22:1-2, 28:1, 35:22, 83:1, 109:1). He’s forgetful (Gen 8:1; 9:16; Isa 49:15-16). But my favourite is the omni-directional wheelchair he has chosen in Ezekiel 1:4–28.
God might not be innately limited, but in choosing to take on human form, Jesus chose limitation (Phil 2:6-8). It still blows me away: Christ, who holds creation together with his word (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), became a human infant.
I don’t know if you’ve hung out with a tiny baby recently, but they are pretty useless.
I remember marvelling at the way that my first daughter, who was born at full term plus some, couldn’t even move her two eyes together for a start. She was born just before Christmas, and the Christmas story took on a whole new meaning for me that year. Jesus chose this? The indignity! The humility! The grace.
To become fully human, Jesus had to embrace limitation.
So perhaps for us to be fully human, we need to embrace our limitation also.
Deborah Creamer, another disability theologian, argues that
limits, rather than being an array of unfortunate alternatives to omnipotence, are an unsurprising characteristic of human nature.Creamer, Deborah. Disability and Christian Theology: Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2009, 93-4.
To be human, is to be limited – it’s intrinsic, it’s unsurprising, it’s valuable even.
So why are we working so hard to deny it?
I’m not talking here about accepting injustice, about justifying laziness, or about undercutting your dreams for more. As imagers of God we’re called to use all our talents and energy to create a flourishing world.
But that doesn’t mean pushing against every limitation.
I have to call it out: We are addicted to progress, seduced by the prospect of mastery. Dissatisfied with what we have received as gift, we look for ways to remake ourselves. Michael Sandel offers this as a critique of the kind of Promethean aspiration and overreaching hyperagency that leads us to human genetic enhancement.
I want to offer this as a critique of the kind of Superwoman/Superman aspiration that leads to perfectionism, frustration, anxiety, and hurry. The kind of soul-sickness that has caused this mum, when I’ve been trying to GET A THING DONE, to complain, “children are the enemy of productivity!” — like that is a bad thing to be.
Not proud of that one.
While we’ve been in lockdown I’ve had the luxury of being able to put some of my work on hold. And it is a luxury, many people are trying to juggle kids and work while knowing that letting work slip puts there already precarious job on the line. There’s an injustice to the unreasonableness of these expectations on households at this time. It’s worth fighting against those confines, particularly on behalf of others.
But the confines of your own humanness, your own limitness, the fact that you’re not superhuman? Those are limits to accept and embrace.