“The ritual action of Ash Wednesday, ashes being marked on our foreheads in the sign of a cross, reminds us of our brokenness, our mortality, and our dependence on God to work new life in us and through us. We are not in control.” - Kai Nilsen, Engage

Lent is about limits.

The limits of our earthly bodies.

The limits of our goodness.

The limits of our control.

I don’t know about you, but I hate limits. I don’t like being told I can’t do something. We are raised to push limits and boundaries and not accept “no” for an answer. It’s part of our culture. We don’t celebrate the one’s who play it safe, who live within their limits. We celebrate the boundary breakers and the limit pushers.

Sometimes this is powerful…when conventional limits are pushed, justice is brought to the oppressed and marginalized. But this is also dangerously unhealthy out of balance: addiction, workaholism, debt, busyness.

Much of the song of Christianity calls us to break boundaries and push limits and celebrate the unstoppable Spirit that works in us:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

But there’s also a repeating refrain in the midst of that song of hope and revolution that invites us to acknowledging our limits. After all, the unstoppable nature we celebrate is not our own:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:10-12

Death is at work in us. We have limits. We like to celebrate the life of Jesus at work in us without also embracing our brokenness, the death at work in us…our limits. As we begin Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to Easter, how can we acknowledge those limits? How can we explore those places where we have been living beyond our limits: pushing too hard, going to fast, relying on ourselves more than God?

How can we retreat into the limits of our humanity?

  • Set some boundaries with your significant other.

  • Get more sleep.

  • Ask for help with that hurt, habit, or hang up.

  • Review your schedule and cut out one activity or event to give yourself some margin…and have the same conversation with your kids!

  • Get into a reading plan on the Bible app.

  • Start each day asking God for the patience to work within your limits.

As we acknowledge our limits, we clear away the clutter and begin to see the life and spirit of God that is and always has been working in and through us.