No man can be all things to all men at all times. Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before. It is self-evident—whether we like it or not—that it is in our best interest and the interest of others if we recognize our limitations and be willing to reach outside of ourselves for help, direction, input, perspective, knowledge, and wisdom.
The Bible does not teach that one man possesses all gifts or has all the answers. Rather, 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages seem to emphasize our need for community, collaboration, and collective counsel.
How much I don’t know is overwhelming at times. I work in the medical field and even after many years of school, I have barely scratched the surface. On a weekly basis I run up against maladies, conditions, and nuances of care that are either new to me or that I have limited understanding on. The field of mental health is much the same. There is so much that I wish I understood better. For example: when it comes to emotions—how they work and their impact on our everyday life—I have only a tentative, slippery grasp on the high hanging fruit. I feel like a timid snorkeler peering under water, seeing and understanding just a little but realizing there are miles of water under me that are unexplored.
On the other hand, there are those things in life that I simply don’t care as much about. When it comes to maintaining or fixing my vehicle, I have no interest, first of all, and no expertise or experience whatsoever. I drive through the Valvoline quick lube and I’m so thankful for those boys who deftly whip off the oil cap, do something with the dipstick, pour in a couple gallons of golden liquid, smile, and say There, you’re good to go. When it comes to constructing a deck or replacing a window, it is far better if I go to work in order to pay someone else to do this job. Wood construction and I have been through some low times together and have come to an understanding: I leave the saws and hammers to someone else, and that way no one gets hurt. I have been told many times by many well-meaning and helpful carpenters that you measure twice and cut once but even at this rate, I usually end up going through extra lumber, blood-letting myself, or becoming extremely frustrated with the accompanying temptation to say words that I will later regret. I’ve had to understand that this just isn’t me.
The same goes with managing a business. I tried this once on a very small scale and had one employee for a short time. I realized that such a lofty calling was not for me. I had to look in the mirror one day and say, You know Ben, this just isn’t you and you must admit you are better off carrying a lunch box and working for someone else. This has been humbling and difficult to take in a culture that so highly values owning a farm or business, being the self-sufficient boss, calling your own shots, and so on. But long ago I accepted that I would probably never own my own business and would very likely spend the rest of my life being at someone else’s beck and call. I had to recognize my limitations.
There is a lot of freedom and liberty that comes with the recognition of limitations. We recognize that everyone has a gift, and your gift or talent or calling is different than mine. There is also no point in coveting someone else’s gift or talent or calling. Each of us is a cog in the wheel, a grain of wheat in the loaf, a grape on the vine. We all have our place to add to the overall flavor of life. If we all had the same calling or gift, that flavor would actually not be a flavor but rather a flat, tasteless pound cake.
Sometimes we hear criticism for our leaders for not being all things to all men at all times. We say, Well, he’s a great preacher but not so good at personal work. Or, He’s a good listener and compassionate but rather difficult to listen to. Or, He’s not that interested in mental health but takes an interest in tract work. Why is this surprising to us? The things that make that person who they are, the things that God has given them, are for a particular use. I’m not convinced you can have that perfect man who can be a gifted orator, empathetic listener, effective counselor, prompt helper, and powerful leader. At the same time, God does give grace to our leaders and all of us to improve and enhance our gifts, talents, and callings. Sometimes limitations can be overcome. This may require humbly requesting help or input. Sometimes we can learn our way through them, sometimes we can improve—become a better speaker or listener—but there will likely be things that we will be limited to all of our lives because of our personality, temperament, environment, upbringing, intelligence, and so on.
Let’s consider another demographic that we are tempted to criticize at times: our schoolteachers. We expect teachers to be orderly disciplinarians, compassionate guides, excellent educators, fully knowledgeable on all subjects, coaches on the field, a shoulder to cry on, and so on. What happens if they’re somewhat limited in these areas through their upbringing, training, personality or temperament? Again, I don’t believe it is realistic to expect our teachers to be all things at all times. We need to recognize and affirm their strengths; we also need to show compassion, understanding, and support in their weaknesses, and be there to help and encourage in whatever way we can. This includes giving them a safe place to own their limitations, a place where they feel they can admit that something is difficult without being judged as incompetent. As they can safely confront and accept those limitations, it then provides a way to seek growth in that particular area, free of the feelings of inadequacy, without questioning their personal worth.
One last point: mental health is a huge and complicated field. Professionals struggle to understand it. Scientists are realizing more all the time how much we don’t know. It should be no surprise that there is no pat answer or one broad brush to cover all dysfunctions and challenges. God created us with limitations, and for good reason. Limitations bring blessings, often in ways unexpected and unforeseen. Ultimately we are all here to walk each other home—and our limitations invite others to enter our lives and become a part of our journey towards the light.
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