We’ve gotten about six inches of snow at our house, and forecasts call for a lot more. Earlier in the week, since it was likely that the roads between Asheville and Huntington wouldn’t be safely passable this weekend, I reluctantly bowed-out of preaching at Fifth Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday.  Mars Hill University has cancelled classes for today.

So, I’m “in” for the weekend, which is a challenge for me, susceptible as I am to cabin fever. I usually find a reason and a way to venture out, but I’m not even going to try today, in part because even I can see that it’s not safe to risk it. There’s another reason, though: accepting the limits the weather brings gives me another chance to practice my coming to terms with more significant and enduring limits, limits which won’t melt away when the temperature rises.

One of many reasons I’m drawn to poetry is the expectation, even in “free verse,” that its writers will work to compress meaning into as few words as possible and that, with spare or even hidden narrative progression, they’ll show how life moves through wonderment, bewilderment, passion, numbness, love, and loss. Poetry’s limits are integral to its power.

A football game lasts four quarters with occasional overtimes. A baseball game goes nine, and, sometimes, extra, innings. Even at the longest and dullest, the games aren’t endless. The Super Bowl is one game, and the World Series is best four out of seven. Fans of losing teams blame injuries to key players or unfair calls by officials; they’re sure their teams could—should!—have won. Hard as it is to accept, though, there are limits to the opportunity to win.  

There are limits to our attention spans, limits I’ve too often transgressed with sermons or lectures longer than they should have been; limits to how many blueberry muffins I can eat before I end-up with a muffin top; and limits to how much noise I can endure without losing, not my sense of hearing, but my capacity to listen.

Chronic illness makes it necessary for me to acknowledge limits of energy and time, to see that I can only say “yes” to what matters most if I say “no” to other, even interesting and good, things, and to practice faithful stewardship, not just of whatever strengths I have, but of my diminishments, too.

I’m trying to move beyond resentment of limits, since resenting them is a prideful wish to be unlimited; in other words, to be godlike, a hard-but-true thing to admit.  Instead, I want to respect them enough to make creative use of them—to see them as forms which can shape me and my work like the conventions of a sonnet or of haiku shape poets and their poetry.

Poet William Stafford was right: “We survive by our limitations.”  It’s likely that we thrive by them, too.