Learning to live with limits

Hilary Blake, Development Officer for Joy in Enough, considers how our acceptance of limits depends on relationships and trust:

ullswater-backpackIn May I went with my family to the Lake District on holiday. My older son is nearly 5 and needed a rucksack for an upcoming school trip. A friendly Keswick resident directed us to an outdoor shop that stocked children’s equipment: “Round the corner to the left, opposite the toy shop.” At the words ‘toy shop’ my son’s eyes lit up; as parents, we thought maybe a small new toy as a holiday treat would be OK, although we hadn’t really thought about it in advance. He chose a small Lego kit for £5.99.

The next day we were in Glenridding buying lunch when he spotted a magazine with characters from his favourite TV show on the front. £3.99. We still hadn’t had a conversation about whether there was a limit to holiday spending, and bought the magazine. Back at the campsite he saw a bright blue ball in the shop and asked for it. We refused. We have balls at home and we only had one more night on holiday. This seemed reasonable to the parents; unreasonable to the child. Tears ensued.

In June we had a weekend on the Yorkshire Coast. We found an old wallet and put five pound coins in. We talked about what would happen if Joey found two things he wanted to buy and they were £2.99 each. The maths was challenging. He chose a magazine and some bubbles, £4 in total, and was very happy with them. No asking for more, no tears about not being able to have another toy, no accusations of parental unreasonableness.

These episodes started me thinking about how we learn to live with limits. How can we learn to live joyfully within the natural limits that exist? If we don’t understand what the limits are, might we end up never satisfied with what we have and always protesting when a limit is imposed from outside?

Our feelings about limits, and willingness to accept them, vary considerably depending on our relationship with the limit-setter, and with other limit-setters we have encountered.

If we experience parents, teachers, line-managers, government agencies and inter-governmental organisations generally acting fairly and reasonably (or more than that, acting generously and lovingly) we may be more likely to accept the limits they set, from pocket money sums to motorway speed limits, carbon caps to family limits on ice cream consumption.

Of course, it’s a normal part of child development and adult life to test and debate limits that others try to impose. Sometimes limits are unfair and need to be challenged and overturned. I don’t expect that the conversation on holiday spending money is finished for our family!

What about natural limits? There are finite amounts of the earth’s resources, and finite amounts of ‘waste’ that we can can give back to the earth’s ‘sinks.’ When we believe that the earth, including its resources and its sinks, its relationships and ecosystems, was made by a God of infinite love, can that help us to live joyfully within the limits of God’s creation?

When we believe that the really important things are not limited, can that help us to accept the limits that do exist? I hope that my children know that their parents’ love for them is unconditional, even if our bank balance is limited. God’s love, grace and forgiveness have no limits – can this knowledge help us to live joyfully within the limits of God’s good creation?

What do you think? How do you navigate limits in your family? Which limits do you accept gladly or unthinkingly? Which limits do you challenge?

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