Purpose Behind Every Limitation

The freedom found in obedience to God’s commands

Jan 18, 2024

God Life Lessons Reflections Habits Change
chained window frame in dim light

Photo by Denny Müller

Walking out of my orthopedic appointment, I felt immediate relief in my left shoulder. The injection was kicking in and I almost cried from joy. I went home and immediately scheduled my prescribed physical therapy for the next six weeks. This was a familiar scenario. Only six years ago I was doing the same thing for my right shoulder. The diagnosis? Bursitis in both cases. Not the way I was hoping to start the new year, but this was the reality I was faced with.

In thinking about when the pain began this time around, I could with 95% certainty point to a yoga class I started taking about two months prior. It was a yoga and cardio combo class, and I fell in love with it. It was the perfect intensity level and I always left feeling amazing. Until my shoulder decided to feel otherwise and forced me to take a break from working out.

Do you ever find that your body is trying to communicate something to you but you just won’t listen?

Our bodies are always sending us messages, signaling to us what they need and when we are harming them. For years now, I have not been listening to my body when it tells me to stop feeding it junk. It has begged me for a healthier lifestyle in the eating department, but I won’t budge. Even with all the aches and pains I have experienced in the last year, I am resistant to changing my ways. Why?

The sharp, agonizing jolt in my shoulder that I endured for a month before the doctor had an appointment slot was, you could say, my wakeup call. No longer was my body gently tapping me on the back to get my attention, it was downright screaming in my face. I don’t blame it one bit. Pain can be a ruthless teacher. Sometimes we need that blatant rebuke to listen.

As I began reflecting on why I was so unyielding when it came to eating healthier—even with the knowledge that it was what I needed—I realized it had a lot to do with feeling restricted and like I was losing a sense of freedom in that part of my life. No longer could I eat whatever I wanted like I did in my teens and twenties. No longer could I get away with poor food choices. The consequences were apparent all over my body, inside and out.

I imagine I am not alone in this.

None of us like restriction, to be given perimeters around the things we love. This is wired in us from the beginning of time. Adam and Eve sure didn’t like being told what trees they could and could not eat from. There are countless stories in the Bible of people crossing the boundaries God set for them, only to experience the terrible repercussions of their actions.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. (Psalm 119:2-4)

Here’s the lesson I’m learning—God puts restrictions in place for a reason. In fact, for OUR benefit. He knows what is good for us immensely more than we do. There is purpose behind every limitation He places before us, every command He asks us to follow. Because God knows the pain we will encounter if we break that command or cross that boundary. He knows the suffering that awaits us if we don’t listen.

Getting to eat whatever we want or engage in any pleasurable activity that we want might sound like freedom, but it is actually the opposite. It is its own kind of prison, keeping us locked in unhealthy habits that are slowly damaging our body and soul. So long as we refuse to quit them, we are slaves to our vices, allowing them to control our decision-making. The illusion of freedom they offer us is powerful, keeping us bound to their whims.

James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, puts this really well:

Strangely, life gets harder when you try to make it easy. Exercising might be hard, but never moving makes life harder. Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but avoiding every conflict is harder. Mastering your craft is hard, but having no skills is harder. Easy has a cost.

Yes, easy does indeed have a cost. And I can no longer pay it.

God desires for us to live lives free of any chains.

Paradoxically, the fences he puts around our desires give us the latitude to live that kind of life. In having fewer choices, we do not fall into the traps that the wrong choices are designed to lure us into. We are protected from the afflictions caused by unholy indulgence. A child might desperately want to put his hand in the electrical outlet or jump off that cliff or eat that toy, but the parent knows these are dangerous and will ultimately cause him harm. And so it is with our loving Father in heaven.

The discipline of obedience God is inviting us to practice comes in many shapes and forms, and will differ for you and me. But through this obedience to His purposeful commands, we will find the gratification we are clumsily seeking through other means. The first step is surrendering our resistance and placing it at His feet. By yielding to God’s Word, we are now positioned to live within the safe confines He has set for us.

I’ll admit, I won’t change overnight. I’ll have to mentally remind myself, repeatedly, that restriction is good for me and that easy has a cost. My eating habits will need an overhaul. As will my pantry. The change will have to be both internal and external. Progress, not perfection. I’d just rather not have any more wakeup calls that land me in the doctor’s office. Next time my body gently taps, I’ll listen.