Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”
~ Tony Gaskins
Some days I’m just more emotionally fragile than others. I feel like I live my life walking near the edge of a cliff. The ordinary stresses of life—simple things like lost shoes, computer crashes, spilled milk, and time crunches push me closer to the edge an inch at a time. Bumping into other people’s humanness—various imperfections and frustrations—can knock me even closer towards the cliff. My own negative thoughts, nagging self-doubt, and off-handed remarks I receive as criticism don’t help. They drag me nearer to the edge convincing me I’m not strong enough to stay out of the ditch for long. I am a fanatic conflict-avoider, so any relational ripples in my family pond hit me like tidal waves. Wading through miscommunication, fussy toddlers, raised voices, misunderstanding, bickering children, unkindness, impatience and the like bring me to the brink the quickest of all.
When I take a hit from any one of these stressors, I make an effort to get back up, dust off, refocus, and go again. I try hard to remember all these truths I have learned. (You know, the ones I’ve written down to share with you.) I pray and ask God for help. I have another go. But eventually (inevitably?) it seems one bump finally sends me over the edge. It wasn’t that the final bump was any bigger or harder than the others, it just happened to be the last one I could handle so it usually gets all the blame. I snap and all the emotions I’ve been holding at bay crash down on me in one big cumulative “Whomp!” Whether it’s despair or frustration or anger or hurt or a confusing concoction of several emotions; whatever I’ve been trying to stay on top of finally sits on top of me. And it sits down hard.
As long as I’m walking the cliff’s edge, I have some semblance of control over my mood and emotions. I get rocked, but I can recover and rise above. But 0nce I go over the edge, it’s very very hard to get up again. We can clean up the spill, fix the problem, apologize, forgive, and pray, but I’m still in a funk. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
As I have become aware of this pattern in my life and gotten better at recognizing it, I want to know if the fall is preventable. Is it possible to walk the cliff and not drop over the edge? Can I learn to enjoy the view and feel the breeze but not tumble off? Am I able to learn where my footing tends to slip and stay clear of the hazardous rocks below?
Or am I destined to keep falling off the same cliff for the rest of my life?
If I want to learn to stay on this side of the cliff, I need to do three things. I need to KNOW exactly where the edge is. I must ACCEPT that I can only go so far and no farther. I can’t walk off the edge of the cliff and expect to fly. Gravity is real. Finally, I need to post signs for myself and those who walk with me to remind us of the danger we live near. Physical hazards in our life have warning signs. We can’t avoid dangers of which we are unaware. It’s only fair to COMMUNICATE to myself and others what my limits are.
In order to know, accept, and communicate my limits, I simply must be deliberate about thinking these things through in advance of a stressful situation. The closer I am to the edge, the foggier my thinking becomes. Profitable thinking must be done before I approach the precipice.
Like it or not, we all have limits. Supermom is as real as the Tooth Fairy. I stink at both roles. (Just ask my kind-hearted and generous oldest daughter who frequently covers for the Forgetful Tooth Fairy in our home.) Don’t plan or judge your life based on what other people are doing. They are not you. It’s not fair to yourself to measure your own success by what others are able to do, handle, achieve, or accomplish. They have their own unique set of circumstances, talents and deficiencies, strengths and weaknesses, helps and handicaps. You have yours.
We need to sit down and ask ourselves questions. What am I good at doing? What should I step aside and let others do? What are my passions? What motivates me? What absolutely drains the life out of me? What do I need to function well? How does my unique personality play affect the way I operate? Then we need to try to answer those questions as objectively as we can.
But we’re not always as objective about ourselves as we’d like to be so it’s also helpful to ask others’ for their input. What insight do your close friends, coworkers, and family members have to add? In Exodus 18, we read how Moses was handling every single issue the Israelites had. He was overextended and worn-out. It took a fresh viewpoint from his father-in-law, Jethro, for Moses to see the craziness he had gotten sucked into (Ex 18:14).
There are also a multitude of helpful online quizzes that can help you narrow down what is safe ground for you and where the limits of your cliff are. And I don’t mean the what-Disney-princess-are-you type quizzes. That’s useless twaddle apart from being mildly entertaining. Our family has found a wealth of insight into our individual inner-workings through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator evaluation. There is a plethora of free information about this online. Here’s one link to get you started: http://www.16personalities.com
Another type of test I have found helpful in defining who I am and who I’m not is a spiritual gifts assessment. There are many choices, but here’s one: http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/test/adult Keep in mind that just because it’s labeled a “spiritual” test, doesn’t really mean there’s anything more “spiritual” about it. It is simply a tool to help you examine yourself to gain greater insight about who God has created you and gifted you to be.
None of these assessments should be used to pigeonhole or stereotype people. No one fits neatly into any man-made personality box. We are all unique creations. Generalities can be helpful to a certain extent, though.
Let go of what you want to be able to do but just can’t (or at least not right now). Learn where your “edge” is—what and how much you can and can’t handle. Know Your Triggers. What specific things push you closer to the edge? Identify them.
Truth be told, I want to cook like Ree Drummond, eloquently express deep spiritual insights like Ann Voskamp, have my house running smoothly in order like FlyLady, manage my finances like Dave Ramsey, and have the humor and wit to make everybody around me laugh til they wet their pants like Jen Hatmaker. Sometimes I get bent out of shape and disappointed with myself when I don’t meet all my own wild expectations. You know, like when I realize I’m merely human after all and yes, I do have limitations. I can’t make a composite out of everyone else’s best parts and then set that as my lofty standard. I have to remind myself that I’m not any of these people I admire. I’m my very own self, created just right to glorify God in the circumstances He has put me in. (And also they don’t have 8 kids and move every 2 years. Do you realize how much more productive I could be if I wasn’t always packing or unpacking all the time? Just sayin’.)
When Jethro told Moses his workload was out of control, Moses listened. Jethro outlined a plan for Moses to delegate the minor issues to trustworthy officials and only take on the most difficult cases himself. Moses had to admit that he was limited. He couldn’t solve everyone’s problems. He was wearing himself out and he needed help (Ex 18:17-26).
God alone is infinitely limitless. We are not God. Satan wants to BE God. We want to FOLLOW God. There’s a big difference! We are not limitless and we need to accept that. It is rebellious to refuse to accept our place as finite limited beings.
Sometimes the hardest person to convince of my own limitations is myself. Other people seem to know I’m limited already. Go figure. They’re okay with it. I’m the one who is trying to push myself beyond my limits thinking just maybe this time I’ll fly when I reach the edge of the cliff. I never do.
Part of accepting our limits is being deliberate about avoiding or reducing the bumps that push us toward the edge. Of course, it’s ridiculous to completely incubate ourselves from anything stressful or unpleasant. That’s not what I’m suggesting you try to do. I’m just saying if we can look ahead and see the edge approaching it is okay and even wise to take a break, change your course, or get some help to keep ourselves on this side of the cliff.
Life has a way of throwing unexpected junk at us from time to time that we have no way of preparing for. But there are also plenty of recurring stressors in our lives where we can manage a method of coping in advance.
For example, the hour just before dinner is often stressful for a lot of people, myself included. Trying to get the meal made and the homework done while simultaneously caring for the tired and hungry can stretch even the best multitaskers. The thing about dinner is—it happens every night. We shouldn’t be shocked when we find ourselves frazzled at 5 pm once again. The trick is taking the time well before 5 pm to make a plan. What can I delegate, deconflict, or do in advance? Where can I reduce my expectations? What is essential and what do I need to let go? How can I remember to have grace with myself and others when one or all of us blows it?
After we have identified and accepted our limits, it’s time to post the warning signs. We can’t fault people who inadvertently nudge us (or push us) over the cliff when they don’t even know there is a cliff. It is our responsibility to tell others when we’re getting close to our cliff.
Everybody’s edge is in a different place and we all have different margins and travel at different speeds. Some people have a nice wide place to wander. For some of us, we need to stay in a narrower field to stay safe. Some people creep slowly to the edge with each small bump. Some rush over the cliff with unexpected speed that seems to come out of nowhere. We are all unique. We must be gracious with each other.
Sometimes warning signs aren’t quite enough and we may just need to build a fence (also called a boundary) in order to keep ourselves in the safe zone. It’s okay to say there are some things that we just won’t permit in our presence if they are harmful. In general, people will treat us the way we allow them to. We train them by our “yeses” and “no’s”—by what we allow in our yard and what we don’t.
Many people will push us just as far as we let them. That’s why our own children are always the most difficult ones in the Sunday school class. They live with us. They know exactly how far they can push us before we snap. The other kids don’t know what they can get away with, so they stay well within the boundaries of safe behavior. Just wait until their mom is the volunteer. Then your child will be the sweet angel. J
It’s helpful to let others know when you are feeling fragile. Most people won’t pick up on it unless you tell them. If you are going through a difficult season or having a rough day, you can tell your family and friends that you are more sensitive than usual right now and you would appreciate them handling you with care.
People used to wear a black armband when someone close to them had died. It was an outward reminder of an inward pain. Among other things, it reminded people to be gentle. There are many days I wish I could wear a “fragile” armband. We all have scars, but they are not all visible.
Some days I’m a football and you can toss me around a bit, have fun at my expense, or even give me a swift kick. Other days, I’m more like a dried flower and if you breathe wrong near me I might crumble to dust. The challenge is always for me to discern that it’s a fragile day and then to communicate that to others as appropriate. It’s good to let my husband know which wife he’s talking to, but I don’t necessarily need to tell the checker at Walmart the details of my emotional barometer. People in your inner circle should be capable of understanding and loving you on all sorts of days.
Normally, if you were to rub sandpaper on my arm, it would be irritating but I could brush it off and move on. But if I have an open wound on my arm and you rub sandpaper across it, I will come unglued. I will hurt and scream and cry and tell you to leave. When we are hurting, we are more sensitive. Things that are normally just irritating can be deeply wounding on a fragile day.
We also need to keep mind that the same is true of everyone else too. You aren’t the only one who’s hurting. We all break sometimes—not in the same way or at the same time or because of the same event, but we all have wounds somewhere. We need to be gentle with others on their fragile days and accept their boundaries.
Rather than bumping one another off the cliff, let’s resolve to walk together. Together we can hold each other back from the edge and shelter each other from the sharp rocks below. With our arms around each other, we can enjoy the beautiful view and find peace in the grace of God we lavish on each other.
Where is the edge of the cliff for you? What are the signs you’re getting close? What can you do to prevent yourself from going over the edge? How can you help others when they get close to their edge?
“I Can Just Be Me” by Laura Story
I can be broken, I can be needy,
Lord I need You now to be,
Be my God, so I can just be me.
To read other posts in this series, click the image below.