Life presents us with a range of difficult tasks, each stage of life presenting a unique array of challenges which tax our abilities and personalities in different ways. Each of us would have little difficulty articulating some of the key adjustments we have to make and challenges that we currently face. We recognise the power given to us in naming the obstacle, such that we are then able to sift and arrange the resources we might bring to such a task. It is stresses such as these which help us to grow and mature, shaping our character.
I would suggest, however, that this is not the most difficult challenge to be faced by any human being. These challenges of achievement are in large part external to something much deeper – the challenge to know ourselves, and to express that knowledge in appropriate ways.
Those who work in helping professions know that the greatest asset is to know one’s limitations. Whether it be in the medical, counseling or social work fields, professionals are taught to realise when they have reached the limits of their ability to assist, and then to refer on to someone who can help. In such circumstances, assistance to the person is optimised. Yet in a different sense, this knowledge of our limits, of our strengths and weaknesses, is something that falls to all of us in our struggles to be human.
How often is the message conveyed in the media that it is important to have it all together – something that is aided by particular products that we might buy. To show weakness or inability is generally regarded as a failing rather than a strength.
It may well be that most difficulties in human relationships stem from our inability to recognise our limitations and weaknesses on the one hand, or from our unwillingness to express and act in the light of that knowledge, either by working to develop such areas, or by passing such things onto appropriate others.
Paul’s use of the body as an image of the church reinforces this understanding. An eye is useless for detecting aromas, a foot not that useful in eating. But we have learned to recognise what each part of our body can contribute to the whole. If one part should fail, we work to retrain other parts to compensate. We think no less of a tongue because it cannot tie a shoelace.
To be fully human is to recognise our human limitations, and to work in concert with one another to achieve as best we can: to develop a sense of community through which God can touch and develop each one. It is a sign of the Kingdom of God come on earth.
September 22, 2002