The Freedom of Limitations

On my left hand, I wear the symbol of a choice I made 29 years ago. When I said yes to the union that was forged between my husband and me on that day of satin and lace, I was also saying no to a thousand other things, and this is the nature of choice. By making any choice, I accept the limitations that go with it.

Heroes of the faith like Wycliffe and Bonhoeffer made costly decisions to pursue the will of God even though it clashed (and ultimately collided) with the power structures of their times. More recently, civil rights activists who willed themselves into identity with a minority were prepared to accept the limitations imposed upon them:  ridicule, social censure, jail time, or even death.

In Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton defines human will or volition as the act of “choosing one course as better than another.” (62) He meanders into the matter of choice in the context of his ongoing disagreements with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw and their kin, but the alarm and scorn he directs toward their exaltation of the human will seems wildly relevant a hundred years later.

Isak Dinesen described a man (in Out of Africa) who would not “strive toward a happiness or comfort which may be irrelevant to God’s idea of him.” When an individual’s will becomes an end in itself, it becomes an idol. Chesterton referred to this as the “worship of will,” and, apparently his adversaries had overlooked the limitations that come with freedom, for “when you choose anything, you reject everything else.” (63)

Early 20th-century will-worshipers may have purposefully sidestepped the notion that it was God who conceived of freedom of the will for humanity in the first place. When He granted “the dignity of causality” (Pascal’s phrase, not Chesterton’s), this was in keeping with our creation in His glorious likeness. Then, the entire narrative arc of Scripture follows as a record of God’s working His divine will through the exercise of the free will of a rag-tag assortment of men and women who, at times, gave every indication that they had not an inkling of “God’s idea of them.”

If “every act of the will is an act of self-limitation,” (63) this rings true even for the Almighty. God’s sovereign choice to confer upon us the gift of free will set limits around His own freedom:

  • He chose not to coerce;
  • He stoops to ask for our cooperation;
  • He waits for us to participate in the fulfillment of His plans.

Even in the flesh, Jesus worked miracles through acts of human collaboration at His request:  fill up a water pot, extend a hand, distribute a torn up loaf of bread. He despaired over the faithlessness of whole communities and let their unbelief turn the holy spigot of blessing to the off position.

When I’m tempted to lament my own unwise choices or to fear the gift of free will in the hands of the inexperienced young men I love, let me first remember that the claustrophobia of limitation is only a corollary to the glorious freedom that is ours in the first place: We are free to make mistakes and to learn from them, to sin and be forgiven and then to start over.

Second, may I live toward a boldness that, in Chesterton’s words, is able to “choose a path and go down it like a thunderbolt.” (69) This was the way of Christ when He aligned His power of choosing with the Father so that, in maturity of faith, He was able to choose the cross, and in despising the shame, to accept the limitations of that choice without regret.

Thank you all for reading along,

P.S. Linda, my friend and fellow reader in this year of Orthodoxy, has written a great post on Chesterton’s response to this question: “Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?”  Chesterton’s thoughts on self-confidence may be even more relevant today than ever. Click here to enjoy Linda’s summary and her own visceral response to his words.

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Shame-filled to Shame-free

Christine unwrapped her sandwich, completely unaware of the scornful expressions on the faces of her Kindergarten classmates.  “Mmmmm . . . feta cheese and olive,” she thought, taking that first delectable bite.

“What’s that stinky stuff you’re eating,” wailed one boy, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “She’s eating Greek cheese!” someone announced.  “No wonder Greeks stink!”

Surrounded by scowling faces, Christine Caine was being schooled in shame, and even though her six-year-old self did not have a word to wrap around her feelings on that day, she spent twenty-two years of her life battling the feelings of rejection that came as a result of events that followed this early memory.  Ethnic bias, childhood abuse, and the perception that her Type A personality was unacceptable to her family and to her teachers taught her to hide her true self, and it became clear to her that shame had an agenda — a curriculum —  that would rule her life if she allowed it to:

  1.  Shame teaches you to hide yourself, to hunker down wherever you can find a wall of protection.
  2.  Shame pushes you down and prevents you from becoming all you could be.
  3.  Shame whispers lies to your soul about the character of God and His love for you.

Overcoming these lies has been a miracle of grace in Christine’s life, and she shares her journey in Unashamed, and then challenges her readers to come out of hiding and accept the very same grace that God offered to Adam and Eve when they responded to His call and emerged from their long-ago hiding place.  The fact that their Genesis 2:25 status of shame-free living came to a crashing conclusion when they disobeyed God reveals the connection between shame and guilt.  Brene Brown helpfully distinguishes between the two:

Shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.  .  . Guilt says, ‘You’ve done something bad.’ Shame says: ‘You are bad.’  There is a big difference between ‘you made a mistake’ and ‘you are a mistake.’

Christine summarizes it this way:

“Guilt is about my do.   Shame is about my who.”

Shame kept Adam and Eve hiding from God, rather than running to Him to deal with their guilt.

Enter:  The Gospel.

The rescuing truth is two-fold.  Romans 3:23 verifies our guilt; Psalm 139:14 testifies to our value and worth to God, and this is the truth around which we must shape our lives.  Christine calls the love of our crucified Savior “the key that will unfasten the shackles of shame.”

The same voice that coaxed Adam and Eve out of hiding invites you to be found and known.  The heart of compassion that brought the woman of Mark 5 out of hiding and into healing is found in the God who calls us “Daughter.”  He invites those who are tired of bleeding into His family where what is hidden in the dark is brought into the healing Light and loses its power.

Joining God in His work on this earth, Christine found Mercy and began living out the Truth that God could weave her leadership skills and her outgoing personality and her passion for ministry into His implementation of the Great Commission.

This did not happen overnight.

Overcoming fear of rejection, embracing her God-given power of choice to “move past her past,” looking at her future through a “resurrection lens” instead of a “shame lens,” and taking the risk of intimacy felt like coming out of a wilderness life and learning to live in deliverance and freedom.

Skillfully straddling memoir and manifesto, Christine shares lessons learned in the cauldron of leadership and the sometimes painful realization that “wounded people wound people, but healed people bind up wounds.”  In her personal journey from shattered to restored, God has set Christine’s course on the path of forgiveness and growing trust.  Working to rescue victims of trafficking and to help women “internalize a leadership identity and fulfill their purpose, passion, and potential” has been Christine’s way of living out her identity in Christ and of demonstrating to the world that none of the pain she endured in her past was wasted.  God has redeemed it all, and the message of Unashamed invites women to set their feet on Truth, “unwavering in purpose and unstoppable in [the journey] from shame-filled living to shame-free living.”


This book was provided by Zondervan, through the BookLook Bloggers program, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Invitation into Relationship

The Answer to Our Cry by Rick McKinley:  A Book Review

Everyone is looking for freedom.  Most of us are looking in all the wrong places with the idea that freedom involves getting what we want.  The Answer to Our Cry is not a series of steps, but a spotlight on the truth that true freedom is the ability to:

1.  Live fully — As an author, Rick McKinley has a unique voice:  casual, pastoral, with a touch of urgency.  He calls his readers away from the awkwardness of standing around at the junior high dance and into the self-forgetfulness of David’s dance when the ark of God returns to Jerusalem.  Moving away from self-centered living is a move toward fruitfulness.

2.  Love boldly — As the father of a special-needs child, Rick McKinley has seen first-hand the heartbreak of feeling unloved.  He reminds his readers that we are already the beloved of God as His children, and this is not a status based on our competence or our merit.  Based on this safe foundation, we move beyond the safety of “nice” and into the grace of loving like Jesus, because we see His face in “the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.”  The result of this kind of love is the courage “to work where things are not the way they should be,” thereby effecting change and justice.

3.  Fear nothing — As a pastor, Rick McKinley has a high view of God as One who can be trusted in the hard places of life.  The freedom of trusting changes the desert from a place of fear “to a place where God is meeting me in His love.”  Letting go of the need to control and to fix everything opens the hands to receive freedom.

From this kind of love, boldness and others-centered living comes a “persuasive life,” free of guilt, compelled by love, and, therefore, imaginative, grounded in Truth, and completely new:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here! (I Cor. 5:16,17)

I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255