Insights with Emily: knowing your limits

By Emily Salerno-Oswald
Scriptural Columnist

Midterms are upon us and spring break is on the horizon. We are nearing the end of winter, but the weather is still bleak. This is the time of year when students often begin to feel worn, weary and tired.

A week ago, I was sick. No one likes being sick. When you’re sick, everything feels like it is 10 times more difficult than it has to be. Yet, there are still things that need to be done.

So, what do you do? Guzzle Vitamin C drinks and forge ahead at full speed? Go to class with pockets filled to the brim with cough drops, ticking off assignments without making any progress?

If productivity is the priority, as is so often the case in college, these seem like feasible options. Sometimes, they seem like the only options.

However, neither of these options honors the human person as a whole. If personal wellbeing is repeatedly thrown to the wayside to keep up with the demands of our schoolwork, household or mission team, our ability to give will eventually run dry.

Not only does this approach fail to honor the innate value of the person, it also sets individuals up for disappointment when they fail to meet the unreasonably high expectations they’ve set for themselves.

Especially during the times when our limitations are glaringly clear to us, we must remember that we have value because of who we are, not what we do. We are forced to admit this to ourselves when we hit a wall and must accept and care for ourselves in the midst of the things we are incapable of.

What human beings don’t like to admit (myself included) is that, sometimes, it’s necessary to slow down.

Sickness is just one human limitation which forces a person to slow down.

In life, we experience many moments when our own individual capacities do not align with our self-expectations. How can we handle such circumstances?

I believe you should let yourself feel emotions (positive and negative). Console and encourage yourself when you mess up rather than chastising and judging yourself.

Love yourself unconditionally, recognizing that this is how God loves you. Give yourself breathing room (space to “just be”).

Accept your weaknesses and allow God to work with them for good rather than trying to get rid of them. Allow yourself to “fall apart” (in prayer, with a close friend or confidante or in a safe place).

Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Recognize that the things on your to-do list are rarely the most important things in life.

When it feels like you’re failing at a goal you’ve set for yourself, realize that you’re likely growing by leaps and bounds in another area of life. Failure is what allows us to learn.

Of all the suggestions on this list, I want to emphasize one in particular: letting yourself feel. This piece of advice has been very helpful to me, as I have had to learn how to practice it personally.

It applies to both men and women, contrary to what traditional gender roles may tell you. Everyone has emotions that need to be felt and expressed.

This doesn’t mean that you have to break into a fit of sobs or subject your classmates to your traumatic backstory. Often, it’s literally as simple as admitting to yourself that you are feeling an emotion and that that’s okay.

On our campus, scrupulosity is a struggle that many people wrestle with. It’s easy to forget that feeling unpleasant emotions is NOT A SIN!

It is okay to be frustrated sometimes. It is okay to feel angry and have to work through that anger. It is okay to have questions and doubts. It is okay to feel confused or uncertain.

God is a loving Father. What loving parent would want his children to repress their emotions and put on a brave face instead of getting to the root of an issue?

When you love someone, you seek to get to the heart of what is troubling them, with them. Their concerns are of concern to you.

Only when we acknowledge our emotions will we be able to work through them and heal.

Many people fear that allowing themselves to “fall apart” is the worst thing that could happen to them. My current belief is much to the contrary (although I’ve had to learn how to embrace this standpoint). I believe that falling apart is often the first step toward life coming together again.

The world doesn’t end when we fall apart. Rather, in falling apart, we learn what it is to surrender: to have the boldness to admit to God that we can’t hold things together anymore and that we need him to do what we can’t.

He welcomes this because the belief that we are the ones holding our lives together is complete self-deception. The minute we admit that we can’t and don’t control it all, we finally give God the space to work.

We can trust that, as Paul states in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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