I’m sorry. I’m not God. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m not even a good representation of the Proverbs 31 woman. I do not have unlimited time, energy, and resources. Sometimes my emotional capacity is next to nothing. There are times I feel like if I have to do one more thing I’m going to blow a fuse.
And guess what? I do! I lose it when I’m maxed out and I’m asked to do one more thing. Actually, what usually happens is all my kids will simultaneously ask for something of me. “Mom, watch me!” “Mom, I’m sooo hungry!” “Mom, can you help me with this?” Unable to hear all their requests because all their little voices get jumbled together, I get wide-eyed and just let out one resounding “NO!” as I march out of the room to sit in silence.
Then there’s the extended family member who expects me to be available at a moment’s notice. Every time I’m needed, I should just be able to meet the need. Because, you know, it’s not like I’m busy homeschooling or cooking or cleaning or spending time with my family.
I know nobody would say outright that I have some kind of god-like quality of unlimited energy, but sometimes I’m treated that way. And I don’t think I’m alone on this.
People need you. Your kids constantly need your attention. Your husband wants the house clean. Your dog needs to be fed. Your co-worker needs help on a project. Your friend needs to borrow money. Your church needs volunteers.
It is absolutely wonderful if you can meet these needs, but usually we can’t do it all. We run out of time. We don’t have the finances to help a friend. We can only help our kids with their homework one at a time. And, gosh darnit! We only have two hands!!
We cannot do it all. We have limits.
I know that’s hard to hear. Maybe it’s a hard realization to know that you have limits. Or maybe it’s difficult knowing that other people have limits. Either way, it’s not something we like to believe.
We want to believe we can do it all! I can give my kids 110%! I can make three gourmet meals a day! I can homeschool all my kids with ease and no help! I can earn extra money with my at-home business! I can start and finish the laundry in one day! Then I have so much extra love and energy at the end of the day that I can please my husband in bed! Yes! I am Super Woman!
Does this kind of person exist? I really doubt it.
Believing the lie that we can do it all is actually quite dangerous. It is a form of perfectionism rooted in fear and shame—fear of not measuring up to some manufactured ideal and shame of our inadequacies or limits.
So, what do we do?
The anecdote to shame is vulnerability. Vulnerability is exposing our weakness, which sounds kind of counterintuitive if our goal is to grow and mature, but remember in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 when Paul says:
“But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”
Paul wasn’t hiding his weaknesses; he was boasting in them! When we hide our weaknesses, we are essentially telling God that we don’t trust Him to protect us. When we are not afraid to be vulnerable, God strengthens us!
How do we practice vulnerability?
We need to talk about this stuff with trustworthy people. What are you afraid of? Specifically, what are you afraid people will think of you when you reveal your weaknesses? Will people think you’re lazy? Selfish? A bad parent? A failure?
Will people think you’re not enough?
When it comes down to it, this is what shame wants you to believe. Right where you’re at, you—in all your messiness and inadequacies—are not enough. But that’s just not true.
You are accepted.
No matter where you are, what you’ve done, or what you haven’t done, you are accepted. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7). We have been accepted by Christ; therefore, we are to show the same acceptance to others.
When I was struggling with shame, my book club (a group of 4-5 trustworthy women) was my key to healing. I could let it all hang out with them. I didn’t just tell them what a mess I was; I let them see my mess! I could cry, be angry, and share my deepest struggles, knowing they accepted me. These women didn’t try to fix me. They didn’t look on in horror or disgust when I shared some pretty hard stuff. They just embraced me. The acceptance I felt was the beginning of my journey out of shame and into freedom.
Suddenly, I felt comfortable with my limits. I didn’t have to do it all because my identity isn’t tied to what I accomplish. For the first time in my life, I felt the freedom to have limits. Not that I didn’t have limitations before. It’s just that I finally felt like it was ok.
On top of that, I was no longer competing with other women or some imaginary Wonder Woman. I was free to be me. I was free to be on my own journey. Some women really can do a lot, but that’s them. I’m not there yet and that’s ok.
The lie that we should be able to do it all is what prevents many of us from having boundaries. Oftentimes, boundaries are merely a way of communicating our limits and our priorities.
In regards to communicating limits, I may need to say “no” to something I want to do because I just don’t have the time. Maybe I can’t go to a party because I’m tired and don’t have the energy. I don’t need to make excuses. I’m free to set these limits.
In regards to priorities, I am able to set limits to ensure I’m not sacrificing my higher priorities like my kids, my marriage, and my health. That means I’m not going to spend so much time in ministry that my family is continually neglected. That means I will prioritize date night with my husband, I will exercise most days, and I will plan healthy meals instead of relegating the health of my family to fast food businesses.
The most helpful practice to implement is simply accepting our limits, developing vision for where we want to be, and doing what we can with where we are (for more in-depth reading on this, read The Middle). You’re not a gourmet chef? Plan a simple meal for your family and learn how to cook one new thing this week. Ask your kitchen-savvy friend to come over and show you a few recipes. Shame will tell you that you don’t need help and that you should be able to do it all on your own. Don’t listen to shame. Reach out for help.
Stretch yourself to try new things and to learn, but don’t stretch so much that you snap. Little by little is how we grow. Our acceptance of where we are and our willingness to embrace the journey will move us out of shame and into freedom.
I appreciate your feedback! Have you struggled with communicating limits? What lie have you believed that kept you from implementing healthy practices? What helped you to grow in this area? Comment below!
For more on boundaries and setting limits, read:
Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s “Boundaries” series
Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Leader”
Geri Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Woman”
Danny Silk’s “Keep Your Love On“