On Ash Wednesday I received oil and ash on my forehead and heard the words, “From dust you have come, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.” I even did this to other people, touching their foreheads with my bare fingers, our faces much closer than six feet apart, sometimes with tears in our eyes.

That day seems so long ago now.

Little did I know those ashen crosses on our foreheads were nothing compared to the daily reminders of our humanity that were soon to come, during what I now call the Lentiest Lent I’ve ever known. More than any Ash Wednesday service ever could, the pandemic has reminded me of my own and our collective humanity—our limitations, frailties, selfishness, and desperate need for God’s goodness.

Never before have I so fully understood why we say those two sentences together: “From dust you have come, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ.” To be honest, I’ve often thought that was a strange juxtaposition, an oddly phrased bad news/ good news mash-up. But amid pandemic fears and the isolation of social distancing, those words have lingered and translated into a sweet refrain in my ears:

“Know that you are human; you are limited, and that’s as it should be.

So, receive the good news of the Limitless One, who is making all things new!”

I confess that I have needed to be reminded of this good news often over the last several weeks. And now in the season of Easter , it is a truth that carries me into a new understanding of resurrection life and hope.

Just two weeks into sheltering at home with a three-year-old and a six-year old, my husband and I—both of us working full-time—had to come to terms with our new landscape of limitations. I usually see a limitation as simply a new way to get something done, but this was different. I had to face the fact that there was a limit—an actual limit!—on my time, energy, attention, and creativity. That recognition itself felt like a blow as I remembered again my humanity that I so often try to ignore. But then it forced me to ask the question: How will I choose to spend this limited resource?

As I hear and read stories of friends across the globe, it seems all of us have grappled with that question in some way or another. Doctors, nurses, and medical personnel feel the heavy weight of this in ways the rest of us can never fully comprehend. For many of us it leads into a process of grief as we choose, or are even forced, to lay something down in this season. For those in my own vocation of pastoral ministry and other helping professions, it seems especially painful because we have been trained and gifted to care for the needs of others. It is hard enough shutting the door of the church—how do we shut the door of our time, resources, and love?

For me that question was answered only by honestly grappling with this one: What will happen if I don’t? In prayer and discerning conversations, I realized that if I didn’t abide by the limitations of this season, my kids and husband were going to suffer the most. And I was already seeing the signs of my own spiritual well-being suffering as I was daily feeling overwhelmed, frantic, and exhausted.

I want to be limitless. I want to be able to do all things for all people at all times, but I can’t. I do have limits. But the good news for me and all of us is that God does not.

I want to be limitless. I want to be able to do all things for all people at all times, but I can’t. I do have limits. But the good news for me and all of us is that God does not.

Six years ago my spiritual director gave me a written prayer from Cardinal Dearden, which is often called “A Prayer for Oscar Romero and Other Departed Priests.” I admit that for most of those years, this particular prayer has brought me more frustration than anything. I found myself responding in defiance: “I do want to change the world, by golly, and with God’s help I will!” But experience provides wisdom, and in recent years I’ve accepted the truth that what I can do will never be enough. And especially now, in these days of such limitation when it seems none of us can do enough, these words have provided clarity, comfort, and conviction. I share them in the hope that they will do the same for you.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

I confess to you that even in the course of writing this blog post, it was a struggle to remember that no amount of writing can ever say all that is true or needs to be said in these days. I am daily working to remember that my kids’ and my parishioners’ futures are not completely dependent upon me. I am a minister and a mom, but I am not a messiah, and the future world I work toward is not mine to create or maintain.

This way of being requires the hard work of discernment in order to hear what is mine to do. Then it requires diligence and the Spirit’s empowerment to do it well. I pray that for my kids, for my church, and for you, my work is a beginning and an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest—in all of us. I pray you know the peace of trusting that your work, too, is an opportunity for the Limitless One to enter and do the rest.

So, friend, may you receive the good news of Jesus Christ and find abundant freedom and joy in your own limitation.