Back in 1973, the renowned populist philosopher Dirty Harry gave the Western world one of the all-time great principles of life: A man’s got to know his limitations. For those of you who missed it, it’s found in Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of a “no-messin’-around” police officer in the film “Magnum Force.”
That such wisdom comes from Hollywood doesn’t make it any less true. At some point, we all come to realize our limitations, or at least we should. Even more to the point, we must finally come to the age, stage and maturity necessary to admit we aren’t good at many things we’ve been trying to do. And, if we’re brutally honest, we’ll even come to rejoice in the limitations we’ve been killing ourselves trying to prove aren’t there.
Here’s what I mean. Just because we are good at one thing or even two things doesn’t mean for a minute we are good at everything or even most things. And while this will eventually become clear to us — hopefully, for our sake and that of others — we will find that those around us have known it for a long time. We’ll also realize we’ve been sowing vast amounts of energy and reaping piles of frustration trying to excel in areas where we’re not very good.
I’ve realized you can’t put in what God left out. By that, I mean at the level of essential intellect, ability, temperament and most of all, passion; if the basics necessary for success in a particular area of life aren’t part of what God handed out, no amount of tenacity or training can make up for it.
By now, some of you dear readers are sputtering and ready to stop reading or worse, so let me back down just a bit. Yes, we can grow and enhance and improve certain abilities. And we can certainly learn new skills and ways of thinking. But ultimately, we all should come to the point where we admit and find rest in the fact that we are not omnicompetent, and are attempting some things that are not in our wheelhouse and never will be. And we should, for our sanity and the betterment of those around us, happily give the reins of specific tasks and opportunities to those who are better at it.
So, what’s keeping us from doing just that? I would nominate pride as the primary culprit. All our lives, we’ve tried to look better than we are. But as we age, we should gain enough wisdom to look at things realistically, especially ourselves. I don’t remember who it was, but someone once told me, “The older I get, the more I become like who I am.” That sums it up. We spend so much of our lives trying to be what we want people to think we are instead of rejoicing in what we’ve been given and working to maximize it in ways that bring beauty and excellence into our lives and our world. The older we get, the wiser we should become, and with that wisdom ought to come the ability to focus on our strengths and quit denying our weaknesses.
This will ignite a passion for doing what we’re uniquely gifted to do in the years we have left and free us to leave the rest to those fitted to do them much better than us. In this way, we come to rejoice in our limitations. Why? Simply because, in recognizing and releasing them, we will feel a fresh wind of inspiration and motivation to pursue even greater levels of excellence and the personal satisfaction that comes with it. And we’ll look around and find that those who have picked up what we’ve laid down are successful and satisfied, too.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.