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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Gift of Limitations

British astronaut Tim Peake has got a new book out. Limitless is the autobiography of his life as a soldier, pilot, parent, and astronaut.

Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things provide welcome flashes of good news in these stressful times. They lift our gaze from the reality of restrictions to the promise of possibilities. And they offer hope that our current circumstances don’t have to be our whole story: if we work hard, take the opportunities that come our way, and refuse to listen to those who try to hold us back, we can achieve whatever we want.

This all sounds exciting, encouraging, and empowering. But it also sounds exhausting. While handing you the power to achieve your destiny, it simultaneously hands you the responsibility for it. If you fail, there’s no one to blame but yourself. If you’re one of the 7,999 applicants who didn’t get picked for the space programme, you clearly weren’t trying hard enough.

And this doesn’t just affect the literal and metaphorical ‘high flyers’. It affects all those who aren’t top of the class, who don’t get promoted, whose lockdown home-schooling attempts were a cosmic failure. If every area of life is a meritocracy, the pressure to succeed is itself limitless. In the launch event for his book, broadcast from the Science Museum last week, Tim Peake was asked about some of the challenges of returning to earth, and said one of them was having people immediately asking him ‘What’s next?’ No achievement ever seems to be enough.

What if the truth is something different? What if our limitations are a gift, not a curse? As Jen Wilkin points out in her book None Like Him, only God is infinite and all-powerful. He has put limits on what we are able to do, and on what we are authorised to do, and these are for our benefit. If we were truly capable of achieving everything we set our minds to, we would have no need of other people and no need of God. To be self-sufficient is to be lonely. To be all powerful is to risk arrogance.

The possibilities and choices we in the West are offered every day – even in lockdown – are almost limitless. Instead of worshipping the false gods of options, power, and self-fulfillment, let’s choose instead to recognise our limitations, thank God for them, and praise him. For he alone is limitless.

Jennie Pollock is a writer and editor who lives, works, and worships in central London. Her first book, If Only: Finding Joyful Contentment in the Face of Lack and Longing, is out on 1 November.


  1. We are all handicapped in some way and need other people who are better than us to fill the gap. This is why we do better as human beings under teamwork.
    Though ultimately we cannot trust the human being. In the Andrew Lloyd Weber song ,’I knew him so well’it makes clear that no one is completely on your side.This is where god steps in..
    I am a student at The London School of Theology Susan De Grazia

    By Sue De Grazia  -  23 Oct 2020
  2. Thanks, Jennie, that’s such an important word. I think you highlight one of the reasons our kids are so stressed today: the pressure to achieve is unrelenting. I was struck recently while watching ‘Our Yorkshire Farm'(!) when Clive Owens, the dad, said of his children that the thing to do is ‘to find where you fit’. That seemed such a wise and measured approach.

    By Paul Dunstan  -  23 Oct 2020
  3. Good points Jenny

    By Angela Somerton  -  23 Oct 2020
  4. This is what God says: Message Jer. 5 20-25

    “Tell the house of Jacob this,
    put out this bulletin in Judah:
    Listen to this,
    you scatterbrains, airheads,
    With eyes that see but don’t really look,
    and ears that hear but don’t really listen.
    Why don’t you honour me?
    Why aren’t you in awe before me?
    Yes, me, who made the shorelines
    to contain the ocean waters.
    I drew a line in the sand
    that cannot be crossed.
    Waves roll in but cannot get through;
    breakers crash but that’s the end of them.
    But this people—what a people!
    Uncontrollable, untameable runaways.
    It never occurs to them to say,
    ‘How can we honour our God with our lives,
    The God who gives rain in both spring and autumn
    and maintains the rhythm of the seasons,
    Who sets aside time each year for harvest
    and keeps everything running smoothly for us?’
    Of course you don’t! Your bad behaviour blinds you to all this.
    Your sins keep my blessings at a distance.

    ’nuff said really 🙂 Thanks Jennie- got this airhead going into praise Him mode

    By John Howard Stothers  -  23 Oct 2020
  5. Thank you Jenny – it’s so easy to become performance driven. May I commend a song to you all to play at least once a week: “I am not disappointed in you” by Godfrey Birtle. The perfect antidote!

    By Peter Riley  -  23 Oct 2020
  6. Peter Riley – thank you for recommending that song. I’ve never heard it before but searched for it and played it a couple of times. How beautiful and affirming.

    By Heather K  -  25 Oct 2020
  7. Wonderful! Thank you for this post.
    How we enter the world relies not on what WE can achieve in it but for whom our aspirations lie.

    By Yazz  -  31 Oct 2020
  8. A refreshing perspective. Thank you. It’s ok to fail. God still loves us.

    By Philip Hamilton  -  4 Nov 2020

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